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LIBRARY 

University of 

IRVINE 




LETTERS OF WILLIAM COWPER 



MACMILLAN AND CO., LIMITED 

LONDON BOMBAY CALCUTTA 
MELBOURNE 

THE MACMILLAN COMPANY 

NEW YORK BOSTON CHICAGO 
DALLAS SAN FRANCISCO 

THE MACMILLAN CO. OF CANADA, LTD. 

TORONTO 



LETTERS 



OF 



WILLIAM COWPER 

CHOSEN AND EDITED 
WITH A MEMOIR AND A FEW NOTES 



BY 

J. G. FRAZER 

FELLOW OF TRINITY COLLEGE, CAMBRIDGE 



IN TWO VOLUMES 
VOL. I 



MACMILLAN AND CO., LIMITED 

ST. MARTIN'S STREET, LONDON 

1912 



PK 



COPYRIGHT 



PREFACE 

IN making this selection from Cowper's correspond- 
ence my aim has been to cull such letters as either 
exhibit the charm and grace of his style at its best, or 
illustrate his life, character, and opinions on books, 
men, and affairs. In one sense it is very easy, and 
in another it is very difficult, to make a good 
selection of Cowper's letters. It is very easy, be- 
cause the whole correspondence reaches so high a 
standard of literary excellence that any considerable 
number of the letters taken even at haphazard could 
not fail to contain much of beauty and interest. 
But it is just the excellence of the letters as a whole 
that makes it difficult to pick out those which rise a 
little above the general level. This, however, I have 
attempted to do ; how far I have succeeded must be 
left to the reader to determine. 

All the letters, with a single exception, are printed 
from the text of Southey's edition. One letter (No. 
ccxcvu.) is printed, with a necessary correction, from 
Mr. Benham's selection in The Golden Treasury Series. 
It had previously been published by Grimshawe 



vi PREFACE 

in his edition of Cowper's correspondence. The 
most complete collection of the letters is the one 
edited by Mr. Thomas Wright of Olney in four 
volumes (London, 1904). It contains some letters 
which had not been published before, and it adds to 
many of the letters passages which had been left out 
by former editors. But for the most part these new 
passages are unimportant, and, regarded from the 
literary point of view, the letters lose little or nothing 
by their omission. 

After my choice was made, I consulted the two 
volumes of selected letters edited by the Rev. W. 
Benham in The Golden Treasury Series, and by Mr. 
E. V. Lucas in The World's Classics respectively. 
Both volumes are compiled with excellent taste and 
judgment, and I have profited by them to glean not 
a few letters which on a first, and even on a second, 
perusal of the whole correspondence I had decided 
to omit. I gladly acknowledge the obligations I 
owe to those who before me have gathered flowers 
in this sweet sequestered corner of the wide garden 
of English literature. The flowers may be old- 
fashioned, but to some tastes they will be none the 
worse for that, nor for the air of rural peace and tran- 
quillity which they waft to our bustling generation 
from the staid, perhaps the humdrum England of 
the eighteenth century, now receding with all its 
ideals, its aspirations, and its problems, into the 
mist and oblivion of the past. 

As it is hardly possible to enjoy the letters without 



PREFACE Vll 

some knowledge of the writer's personal history, I 
have prefixed to them a memoir in which I have 
essayed to tell the simple story of his outwardly quiet 
and uneventful life. It is one of the advantages of 
dealing with Cowper that his life and writings stand 
in no need of apology or defence. The moral white- 
wash which charity, or some other motive, applies in 
profusion to so many literary blackamoors would be 
quite out of place on his figure. To describe him is 
defence or rather eulogium enough, and that is all I 
have attempted. 

Such as the memoir is, any reader who will take 
the trouble to master the facts it contains will under- 
stand most of the allusions in the letters, and can 
therefore generally dispense with footnotes, which 
are apt to interrupt his enjoyment by distracting 
his attention. Nothing indeed could well be more 
inappropriate than to crush these delicate flowers of 
literature under a load of ponderous commentary. 
But here and there I have added a note where it 
seemed likely to be useful. If the pleasant hours 
which I have stolen from graver studies to give to the 
preparation of these volumes should help others, in 
however small a measure, to know and love Cowper 
better than before, I shall deem myself doubly re- 
warded for my labour. 

J. G. FRAZER. 

CAMBRIDGE, 
St. George's Day, 1912. 



MEMOIR OF COWPER 

WILLIAM COWPER, one of the best of men and one of 
the most charming of English poets and letter-writers, 
was born on the fifteenth of November (old style) 1731, 
in the rectory of Great Berkhampstead in Hertfordshire. 
He came of a good stock on both sides. His father, 
the Rev. John Cowper, D.D., rector of the parish, was 
a son of Spencer Cowper, one of the judges of the 
Common Pleas, and brother of the first Earl Cowper, 
an eminent lawyer and statesman, who was twice Lord 
Chancellor in the reigns of Anne and George the First. 
The poet's mother was Anne Donne, daughter of Roger 
Donne, of Ludham Hall in Norfolk ; through her the 
poet numbered among his ancestors John Donne, Dean 
of St. Paul's, whose memory, even if the frigid conceits 
and harsh numbers of his verses were forgotten, would 
live in the limpid prose of Izaak Walton, the sweetest 
of English biographers. Through his mother, too, 
Cowper traced his lineage by four different lines from 
Henry the Third, King of England. In one of his letters 
he tells us that at the desire of his kinsman, the Rev. 
John Johnson (a Donne on the mother's side), he had 
sent up the long muster-roll of his ancestors, signed and 
dated, to Mr. Blue-mantle, adding, "Rest undisturbed, 
say I, their lordly, ducal, and royal dust ! Had they 
left me something handsome, I should have respected 



x MEMOIR 

them more." And again in the lines on the receipt of 
his mother's picture he touches lightly on the same 
string : 

" My boast is not, that I deduce my birth 
From loins enthroned and rulers of the earth ; 
But higher far my proud pretensions rise 
The son of parents passed into the skies ! " 

He lost his mother when he was six years old. She 
died in 1737, at the age of thirty-four, in giving birth 
to his brother John ; but she made so deep an impres- 
sion on Cowper's affectionate heart that it never wore 
out, and when fifty-two years afterwards he received 
her portrait "with a trepidation of nerves and spirits," 
he could answer for the fidelity of the likeness. He 
kissed it and hung it by his bed where he could see 
it the last thing at night and the first thing at wakening 
in the morning. The sight of it revived his memories 
of her and of his childhood, and he composed, "not 
without tears," the verses which enshrine her memory 
and his own in a casket more precious and more lasting 
than any of gold and jewels. It recalled the sad day 
when from his nursery window he watched the hearse 
bearing her slowly away, and heard the bell tolling to 
her funeral ; while the maids, in pity for his passionate 
grief, soothed him with promises, which he long cherished, 
that she would return. The picture, too, brought back 
happier recollections of his mother's love and care, her 
nightly visits to his chamber to see that he was safe and 
warm, the warm scarlet mantle in which he was wrapped, 
and the velvet cap he wore, when the gardener Robin 
drew him, day by day, in his "bauble coach" along the 
public way to school, and the hours he passed seated at 
his mother's side playing with the flowers of her dress, 
the violet, the pink, and the jessamine, while she stroked 



MEMOIR XI 

his head, spoke softly to him, and smiled. Cowper's 
father survived the death of his wife for nearly twenty 
years ; he died in 1756. His son, then resident in London, 
was sent for to attend him in his last illness, but arrived 
too late to see him in life. Then for the first time it 
struck Cowper, whose constant and affectionate nature 
formed strong local attachments, that the tie with the 
place of his birth must be broken for ever. There was 
not a tree, nor a gate, nor a stile in all that country, he 
tells us, to which he did not feel a relation, and the 
house itself he preferred to a palace. He sighed a long 
adieu to fields and woods, from which he once thought 
that he should never be parted, and was never so sensible 
of their beauties as at the moment when he left them 
to return no more. 

After his mother's death Cowper was placed in a 
school kept by a Dr. Pitman, in Markyate Street, a 
dull straggling village of Hertfordshire, between St. 
Albans and Dunstable. There for two years he suffered 
much from the cruelty of a barbarous young bully, more 
than twice his age, who singled out the tenderly nurtured 
little boy to be the butt of systematic but secret perse- 
cution. Being at last detected, the ruffian was expelled 
the school. The treatment to which he was subjected 
at this school made naturally a deep and lasting im- 
pression on Cowper's mind, and no doubt helped to 
form and colour those strong views of the pernicious 
influence of English public schools, to which he gave 
powerful expression in his poem Tirocinium. 

When Cowper was removed from Dr. Pitman's, he 
was in some danger of losing his sight, for specks had 
appeared in his eyes, perhaps as a consequence of the 
persecution he had suffered, and it was feared that they 
might extend and cover the retina. He was therefore 



xii . MEMOIR 

placed in the house of an oculist, where he remained two 
years. The trouble gradually subsided, though to the 
end of his life his eyes were liable to inflammation. In 
the last sad days, when, far from the green lanes and 
shady avenues of his beloved Weston, he paced the 
Norfolk beach, looking out on the grey North Sea, the 
salt spray so irritated his eyelids that, after vainly battling 
with it under an umbrella, he had to abandon his 
favourite walk by the ocean and content himself with 
roaming bypaths and under hedges, in duller scenes but 
softer air. 

From the house of the oculist Cowper was removed at 
the age of ten to Westminster School. There he seems 
on the whole to have been happy, for in his correspond- 
ence he refers to his school-life not infrequently, and 
always apparently with pleasure. He records, for ex- 
ample, a happy dream he had had of being back at 
Westminster, in high favour with his master, and re- 
warded with a silver groat for a composition which was 
passed round from form to form for the admiration of his 
schoolfellows. Again, he tells us that he loved the 
memory of Vincent Bourne, "poor Vinny," as he calls 
him, the poetical schoolmaster, the neatest of all men in 
his versification and the most slovenly in his person. He 
remembered seeing the Duke of Richmond set fire to the 
greasy locks of the absent-minded pedagogue, and then 
box his ears to put it out again. He thought Bourne 
a better Latin poet than Tibullus and Propertius, and 
amused himself by turning some of his verses into 
English. Of a robust constitution and a good walker to 
the end of his days, Cowper as a youth excelled in cricket 
and football. Among his schoolfellows at Westminster 
were the poets Charles Churchill and Robert Lloyd, the 
stage- manager and author, George Colman, Warren 



MEMOIR xill 

Hastings, and his enemy Impey. For Hastings the poet 
had a high esteem, and the favourable opinion of so good 
a man and so shrewd a judge of character should plead 
strongly in favour of the accused statesman at the bar of 
history. On the great day when Westminster Hall, its 
grey old walls draped with scarlet, was crammed with the 
rank and fashion, the beauty, the eloquence, the genius 
and learning of England, gathered to witness the trial of 
one who had spread the fear of the English name and 
the sway of the English race among the dusky races of 
the East, Cowper thought of his old schoolfellow, the little 
pale-faced man with the pensive brow and the resolute lines 
about the mouth, facing that august assembly ; and he 
urged his cousin Lady Hesketh, even at the risk of being 
squeezed and incommoded for some hours, not to miss 
the chance of witnessing so memorable and impressive a 
spectacle. She took his advice, and retired from the hall 
stunned by the thunder of Burke's invective. The long 
charges and Hastings's replies to them were read by 
Henry Cowper, Clerk of the House of Lords, and the 
report of the silence and attention with which his silvery 
voice was listened to by the audience for two whole 
days gave pleasure to his cousin the poet, who refers 
to the achievement in his correspondence and com- 
memorated it in a sonnet. 1 

At the age of eighteen Cowper left Westminster School, 
and having fixed on the law as his profession, he was 
articled for three years to a solicitor, Mr. Chapman of 
Ely Place, Holborn, and resided with him during that 
time. One of his fellow-clerks in the office was Edward 
Thurlow, afterwards Lord Chancellor, who had been 
educated at Canterbury School. Much of the time which 

1 Beginning 

" Cowper, whose silver voice, tasked sometimes hard." 



xiv MEMOIR 

the two young men should have devoted to the study of 
law in Holborn was more agreeably spent by them not 
far off in Southampton Row, at the house of Cowper's 
uncle, Ashley Cowper, afterwards Clerk of the Parlia- 
ments, a dapper little man in a white hat with a yellow 
lining, which made him liable to be mistaken for a mush- 
room. But it was not for the pleasure of his society that 
the two clerks repaired with praiseworthy regularity to 
his abode from the dusty purlieus of the law. He had 
two charming daughters, Harriet and Theodora, with 
whom the future poet and future Lord Chancellor passed 
their days from morning to night " giggling and making 
giggle." The natural consequences followed. Cowper 
lost his heart to his cousin Theodora, who returned his 
love. Thurlow, having no heart to lose, was unmoved by 
the charms of the lively, handsome, and good-natured 
Harriet, who afterwards married Sir Thomas Hesketh, 
and remained the poet's kind, wise, and steady friend to 
the end of his life. One day, while the two young men 
were drinking tea with a lady friend and her sister in King 
Street, Bloomsbury, Cowper said to Thurlow, " Thurlow, I 
am nobody, and shall always be nobody, and you will be 
Lord Chancellor. You shall provide for me when you 
are ! " Thurlow smiled and said, " I surely will ! " 
" These ladies are witnesses," said Cowper. " Let them 
be," answered Thurlow, "for I certainly will." The 
prophecy was fulfilled, but the promise was broken. 
A false lover (for in after life he became a father 
though never a husband) and a faithless friend, Thurlow 
appears to have been as unamiable in private life as he was 
rash, domineering, and headstrong in public affairs. The 
letters which after a silence of many years he con- 
descended to write to his now famous friend, whom he 
had neglected and ignored in his poverty and obscurity 



MEMOIR xv 

are far from confirming the testimony which Dr. Johnson 
bore to the intellectual capacity of this odious bully. 

When he left the solicitor's office in 1752, Cowper, now 
in his twenty-first year, took chambers in the Middle 
Temple. It was there that the shadow of religious 
melancholy, which was afterwards to deepen into hope- 
less gloom, first fell across his life. He tried to dispel it 
by poring over the grave, sweet poetry of Herbert ; but a 
more effectual, if temporary, relief was afforded by a visit 
which he paid to Southampton with Mr. Hesketh, the 
betrothed lover of his cousin Harriet. There, to please 
Mr. Hesketh, who loved yachting, Cowper wore trousers, 
gave himself nautical airs, and sailed the sea ; but he 
found the confinement of a sailing-boat, even on a short 
voyage, exceedingly irksome, and seems to have heartily 
shared the opinion of Dr. Johnson, that being in a ship 
is like being in prison with the chance of being drowned. 
When the moralist of Bolt Court enriched the world with 
this profound maxim he had never been to sea in his 
life ; but very soon afterwards he had an opportunity of 
tasting the delights of "a life on the ocean wave." Cross- 
ing over from Skye to Coll in a small sailing vessel, he 
lay below " in a state of annihilation ; " yet though the 
wind howled, the rain beat, the sea ran high, the night 
was very dark, the sailors themselves were alarmed, and 
all on board were in real danger, Dr. Johnson behaved 
under these trying circumstances with the perfect com- 
posure and courage which he always displayed in the 
greater emergencies of life. Cowper could boast of no 
such heroic experience on Southampton Water, yet he 
deeply sympathised with Noah and Jonah, when they 
were enlarged from the confinement of the ark and the 
whale's belly respectively ; and in stepping out of the 
good sloop Harriet he felt that he bore a considerable 



xvi MEMOIR 

resemblance to these celebrated characters. But when- 
ever he could be spared from the horrors of the great 
deep, he was happier walking with his cousin Harriet in 
the fields to Freemantle or Netley Abbey, scrambling 
with her over hedges, or seated on a height in clear still 
weather, looking across the sunlit sea to the New Forest. 

From Southampton, after a stay of some months, he 
returned to his chambers in the Temple, and was called 
to the bar on the fourteenth of June 1754. But he had 
taken no pains to qualify himself for his profession ; and it 
is more than doubtful whether he ever had a client. He 
tells us, indeed, that one day, reading by the fireside in 
his chambers, he was startled by a prodigious lumbering at 
the door, and on opening it beheld a most rural figure in 
muddy boots and greatcoat, whom for a few delirious 
moments he took for a client drawn from afar by the 
renown of his legal acumen and learning to sit at the feet 
of the new Gamaliel. Visions of silk, if not of the wool- 
sack, perhaps floated before the mind of the briefless 
barrister, but they were rudely dispelled when the 
stranger drew from his bulging pockets a pair of fat 
capons and presented them to him, explaining that he 
was the farmer with whom the poet's brother lodged at 
Orpington in Kent. The chopfallen barrister, assisted 
by a few choice spirits, disposed of the capons at supper, 
but all prospects of legal advancement had vanished for 
ever. 

A deeper disappointment befel him when his uncle, 
Ashley Cowper, refused his consent to the poet's engage- 
ment with his cousin Theodora. The reason which the 
father alleged for his refusal was that the tie of blood 
between cousins is too close to admit of marriage ; but 
perhaps he saw the young man's incapacity for business, 
or discerned ominous symptoms of the mental derange- 



MEMOIR xvil 

ment which was to follow. Be that as it may, the cousins 
parted and never met again. That Cowper felt the 
separation deeply at the time seems certain ; yet in later 
life he appears to have forgotten his early love entirely, 
even while he kept up a close friendship and correspond- 
ence with her sister Harriet, Lady Hesketh. Theodora 
was more constant, she loved him to the end of her life, 
treasured the poems he had written for her, helped him 
without his knowledge or suspicion in his poverty, and 
died long after him unmarried. 

During his life in the Temple, Cowper belonged to 
the Nonsense Club, a society of seven Westminster men, 
who dined together every Thursday, and amused them- 
selves by composing ludicrous verses. Among the 
members of the club were Bonnell Thornton, George 
Colman, Robert Lloyd, and Joseph Hill. The last of 
these was a true friend to Cowper through good and ill ; 
the poet afterwards corresponded with him and bore 
honourable testimony to his sterling worth in the rhyming 
Epistle to Joseph Hill, Esq. A man of simple tastes and 
regular habits, Hill drudged successfully at the law, but 
could relax himself from his professional cares in the 
country, reading on sunshiny banks, or lying on his back 
and watching the clouds go by. Cowper has painted 
another picture of Hill sitting in his box at the coffee- 
house on a winter evening, while the waiter with high- 
raised hand poured from the teapot a long and limpid 
cascade into the foaming, frothing cup below. 

Three years after his father's death, which occurred in 
1756, Cowper removed from the Middle to the Inner 
Temple, where he purchased chambers for two hundred 
and fifty pounds in an airy situation. About the same 
time he was made a Commissioner of Bankrupts, but he 
seems to have cultivated the Muses much more diligently 

b 



xviii MEMOIR 

than the law. He produced several halfpenny ballads, 
two or three of which had the honour to become popular ; 
and with his brother John, then studying for the church 
at Cambridge, he kept up a rhyming correspondence ; 
the whole of it he preserved for a time, but it perished 
in the wreck of a thousand other things when he left the 
Temple. He also helped his brother with a translation 
of Voltaire's Henriade, contributing a version of four 
books. With a friend named Alston he about this time 
read Homer through, comparing Pope's translation with 
the original all the way, and coming to the conclusion that 
there was hardly anything in the world of which Pope 
was so destitute as a taste for Homer. Cowper also 
contributed a few papers to The Connoisseur, a magazine 
of essays in the style of The Spectator and The Rambler, 
which was started by his two school -friends, Bonnell 
Thornton and George Colman, in January 1754 and ran 
till September 1756. The same friends were two of the 
original proprietors of The St. Jameses Chronicle, a news- 
paper characterised by a vein of playful satire, to which 
Cowper also made a few contributions. 

When he had reached his thirty-second year, his little 
patrimony was well-nigh spent, and there was no appear- 
ance that he would ever be able to repair the loss by the 
practice of his profession. About this time the Clerkship 
of the Journals of the House of Lords fell vacant and 
was offered to Cowper by his kinsman, Major Cowper, 
who had it in his gift. As the business of the office was 
transacted in private, the poet thought that the post 
would exactly suit his shy and retiring temperament. 
But hardly had he acquiesced in the prospect when he 
began to be assailed by serious doubts and misgivings ; 
and his uneasiness was greatly increased by some op- 
position that was made to his proposed appointment, as 



MEMOIR XIX 

well as by the intelligence that he would have to be 
publicly examined at the bar of the House of Lords in 
order to give proof of his qualification for the office. This 
last news fell on him like a thunderbolt. Peace forsook 
him by day and by night : a nervous fever attacked him ; 
and though he endeavoured to qualify himself for his 
duties by reading the Journals of the House of Lords 
daily for about six months, his distress continued, and 
every time he set foot in the office he felt like a condemned 
criminal arriving at the place of execution. This could 
not last, and when the vacation was pretty far advanced, 
he went in the month of August 1763 to Margate to rest 
his aching brain and restore his shattered nerves by 
fresh air and sea breezes. 1 The visit, like the one on a 
similar occasion to Southampton, had a beneficial effect. 
Little as he enjoyed sailing on the sea, he loved the 
prospect of the ocean, and the solemn monotonous roar 
of the waves, he tells us, affected him as sweet music 
affects others, composing his thoughts into a melancholy 
not unpleasing. But the lullaby of the billows has its 
dangers. One day walking on the strand, where the clifit 
is high and perpendicular, Cowper failed for a time to 
notice that the tide was rising, and when he did observe 
it, it was almost too late. By running at full speed he 
was just able to reach one of the cartways cut through 
the rock, which led him to the top of the cliff and to 
safety. While the sea pleased him at Margate, the 
society did not. Every week the sailing hoy (for it was 
long before the days of steamers) went to London loaded 
with mackerel and herrings, and returned loaded with 

1 In the previous year (September 1762) Cowper had paid a 
visit to Brighton and found it " a scene of idleness and luxury, 
music, dancing, cards, walking, riding, bathing, eating, drinking, 
coffee, tea, scandal, dressing, yawning, sleeping." 



xx MEMOIR 

company which was more lively than select. By the same 
hoy Charles Lamb afterwards made the same voyage in 
the company of the gentleman who professed to have 
sailed under the legs of the Colossus of Rhodes ; and 
for all its delays and discomforts the essayist preferred 
the old sailing vessel, with its weather-beaten, sun-burnt 
captain, to the trimness and foppery of the modern 
steam-packet which he lived to see. 

From Margate the poet returned to London refreshed, 
but only to plunge into deeper shades of misery. The 
terror of the dreaded ordeal increased : he grew sullen 
and reserved : he fled from society and shut himself up 
in his chambers : when his cousin, Lady Hesketh, came 
to see him, he would not speak to her or look at her. To 
such a pitch did his insane fears carry him, that on the 
morning of the day when he was to appear at the bar of 
the House of Lords, he made a determined and nearly 
successful attempt on his life. When Major Cowper 
called at his rooms to conduct him to the House, he 
found his unhappy relative in a condition which once 
for all put an end to the prospect of his holding the 
parliamentary office. But the removal of this anxiety did 
not bring peace to his troubled mind ; the disease was 
too deep-seated, and soon developed into a black religious 
melancholy, or rather mania, which obliged his family 
to put him under restraint. In December 1763 he was 
removed to a private asylum kept by Dr. Nathaniel 
Cotton, a skilful doctor and a good man, at St. Albans. 
Under the care of this kind and judicious physician 
Cowper recovered his senses in a few months, but it was 
a year and a half before he ventured to leave the asylum 
and face the outer world once more. In the interval his 
religious despair had been changed by a strong revulsion 
of feeling into religious rapture ; from believing himself 



MEMOIR xxi 

eternally damned he now came to believe himself eternally 
saved, and was transported with joy and gratitude ; he 
grudged even the hours of slumber because they inter- 
rupted the flow of his happy meditation on the blissful work 
of the Redeemer. At first the sudden transition excited the 
fears of Dr. Cotton ; but, himself a devout Christian, he 
was led by the assurances of his patient to acquiesce in the 
soundness of his cure, and henceforth, so long as Cowper 
remained in his house, the two had much happy discourse 
together on the subjects of their common faith. 

When he was sufficiently recovered to leave the asylum, 
Cowper resolved to avoid London and seek a quiet home 
for himself elsewhere. He was very poor ; for his 
patrimony was spent, or nearly so, and he now resigned 
his Commissionership of Bankrupts which had brought 
him in 60 a year. But his family subscribed to make 
him an annual allowance ; among those who contributed 
was his kind and generous kinsman, Major Cowper. 
The poet's wish was to settle near his brother John 
who, after holding a curacy at Orpington in Kent, was 
now a Fellow of St. Benet's (Corpus Christi) College, 
Cambridge ; but somewhat strangely his brother could 
find no suitable lodgings for him nearer than Huntingdon. 
Cowper left St. Albans on the seventeenth of June 1765, 
very early in the morning, and reached Cambridge the 
same day. After a stay of four days there he removed to 
Huntingdon, where his brother saw him installed in his 
lodgings and left him. 

His mind had now recovered its natural tone of 
cheerful serenity, and the letters which he wrote from 
Huntingdon to his friends breathe a spirit of tranquil 
happiness and contentedness with his surroundings. It 
was then the height of summer, and he enjoyed bathing 
in the Ouse, whose broad stream and flowery banks he 



xxii MEMOIR 

praises in a letter written on Midsummer Day shortly after 
his arrival. He thought the town one of the neatest in 
England and the country round it fine. " I am persuaded 
in short," he writes to Lady Hesketh, "that if I had the 
choice of all England, where to fix my abode, I could not 
have chosen better for myself, and most likely I should not 
have chosen so well." To a passing traveller, it must be 
acknowledged, the attractions of the scenery about 
Huntingdon hardly lie on the surface. He sees in it 
little but flat green meadows and sluggish streams, their 
banks fringed by willows, with here and there a grey 
church tower standing out among trees, or the sails of a 
windmill breaking the low monotonous line of the horizon. 
But Cowper was happy. After the storm he had found a 
calm ; and among these green pastures and beside these 
still waters he doubtless often meditated, with a full 
heart, on the Good Shepherd, who, as he fondly believed, 
had led his strayed sheep into a quiet fold. 

The distance from Cambridge made Cowper a horse- 
man, for he met his brother John alternately at 
Cambridge and Huntingdon ; and though he sometimes 
got a lift in a neighbour's chaise he generally rode over, 
a distance of some fifteen miles across a flat country, to 
the University town. Amongst the friends to whom he 
wrote from Huntingdon were the ever faithful Joseph 
Hill, who had kindly taken charge of Cowper's affairs 
during his illness, Lady Hesketh, and Major and Mrs. 
Cowper. Of these Mrs. Cowper was his first cousin. 
Her brother was Martin Madan, at that time chaplain 
to the Lock Hospital, a clergyman of the Church of 
England whose style of preaching approached to 
that of the Methodists, then rising into importance. 
He had visited Cowper during his mental affliction 
in the Temple, and had attempted to soothe his 



MEMOIR xxin 

cousin's distress by religious consolation. Afterwards 
he incurred Cowper's deep disgust by publishing a 
treatise called Thelyphthora in defence of polygamy. To 
that work the poet makes many references in his letters. 
It drew down on its author a storm of opprobrium, which 
drove him from his chaplaincy into retirement. 

The longer Cowper stayed at Huntingdon the more he 
liked the place and the people. " In about two months 
after my arrival," he says, " I became known to all the 
visitable people here, and do veritably think it the most 
agreeable neighbourhood I ever saw." Amongst the 
acquaintances whom he made at Huntingdon was the 
family of the Unwins, destined to influence the whole 
subsequent course of his life. It consisted of a father 
and mother, a son and a daughter. The father, the 
Rev. Morley Unwin, a man now advanced in years, 
had been master of the free school and lecturer to the 
two churches at Huntingdon before he obtained a college 
living at Grimstone in Norfolk. His wife, whose memory 
is imperishably linked with that of Cowper, was Mary 
Cawthorne, the daughter of a draper at Ely. She was 
much younger than her husband. Her understanding 
was good, her temperament calm and cheerful, her piety 
deep and fervent, her countenance grave, but sweet and 
serene. She was well read in the English poets and had 
excellent literary taste ; she loved rural walks ; and her 
manners, according to Cowper, a very good judge, were 
more polite than those of a duchess. Not liking the 
society and the sequestered situation of Grimstone, she 
persuaded her husband to return to Huntingdon, where 
he was known and respected. Accordingly he took a 
large convenient house in the High Street of the town, 1 

1 The house, a plain edifice built of bricks which once were 
red but have turned a dusky colour, has now been divided into 



xxiv MEMOIR 

and received into it a few pupils, whom he prepared for 
the University. His only children were a son and 
daughter. The son, William Cawthorne Unwin, an 
amiable young man of about twenty-one, had lately 
returne.d home after graduating at Cambridge. The 
daughter, Susanna, was a girl of about eighteen, 
" rather handsome and genteel," as Cowper describes 
her ; she appears to have resembled her mother in 
character as well as in piety. Altogether Cowper found 
the Unwins " the cheerfulest and most engaging family- 
piece it is possible to conceive." 

The friendship which he struck up with them, based on 
congenial tastes and similar dispositions, was so close that 
when a vacancy occurred in Mr. Un win's house through the 
departure of a pupil, Cowper applied to succeed him, and 
on the eleventh of November 1765 he became an inmate 
of the house. In his letters he describes the calm, happy, 
regular life which he led as one of the family the morn- 
ing prayers and service in church, the early dinner, the 
religious talk in the garden, the walk after tea, the evening 
reading and conversation till supper, the hymns sung to 
Mrs. Unwin's accompaniment on the harpsichord, and last 
of all, the evening prayers. In this peaceful round his life 
glided quietly away for more than eighteen months. Even 
wintry weather, which dispelled some of the summer 
charms of Huntingdon, could not spoil his domestic 
happiness. " I am glad," he writes to Lady Hesketh in 
January 1767, "you spent your summer in a place so 
agreeable to you. As to me, my lot is cast in a country 
where we have neither woods nor commons, nor pleasant 

two. The parlour, in which Cowper is believed to have sat with 
the family, is a handsome apartment on the ground-floor with three 
deep windows looking out on the street. The church of St. Mary, 
where he is said to have worshipped, is only a few steps off across 
the street. 



MEMOIR xxv 

prospects : all flat and insipid ; in the summer adorned 
only with blue willows, and in the winter covered with 
a flood. Such it is at present : our bridges shaken 
almost to pieces ; our poor willows torn away by the roots, 
and our haycocks almost afloat. Yet even here we are 
happy ; at least I am so ; and if I have no groves with 
benches conveniently disposed, nor commons overgrown 
with thyme to regale me, neither do I want them. You 
thought to make my mouth water at the charms of 
Taplow, but you see you are disappointed." In a memoir 
of his life and sufferings which Cowper drew up at 
Huntingdon for the benefit of his new friends, and which 
was published after his death, he concludes his sad story 
by expressing his contentment with his " place of rest," 
and his hope that nothing but death might interrupt the 
even tenor of the life he enjoyed there. 

But a tragic interruption was at hand. In July 1767 
Mr. Morley Unwin, riding on a Sunday morning to his 
church at Graveley, was thrown from his horse and died, 
after lingering in pain for several days in the cottage to 
which he had been carried. This broke the tie which 
bound Mrs. Unwin to Huntingdon, she decided to leave 
the place, and Cowper resolved to go with her. The son, 
William Cawthorne Unwin, had meantime taken orders 
and been ordained to a curacy. A visit which they 
received at Huntingdon from the Rev. John Newton 
a few days after Mr. Morley Unwin's death determined 
Mrs. Unwin and Cowper to remove to Olney, where Mr. 
Newton was curate. He undertook to find a house for 
them, and they accepted his offer. Accordingly, he 
engaged Orchard Side, a tall, plain, red -brick house 
standing in the market-place of Olney, and so near 
the vicarage that by opening doorways in the garden 
walls the occupants of the two houses could com- 



xxvi MEMOIR 

municate without going into the street. Newton lived 
in the vicarage, for Moses Browne, the vicar, burdened 
with a large family, was an absentee through debt. 
Thither accordingly Mrs. Unwin and Cowper removed, 
and were settled in their new home before the end of the 
year. 

The town of Olney is the most northerly in Bucking- 
hamshire. It stands on the northern side of the Ouse, 
and consisted in Cowper's time of little more than a 
single long street, broadening about the middle into a 
triangular market-place adorned with three fine elms. 
Most of the houses were built of yellow stone with 
thatched roofs. The outstanding features of the place 
were the handsome old church with its tall spire rising 
on the outskirts of the town, and the long bridge with 
arches of various shapes and sizes bestriding the river in 
front. 1 At Olney the Ouse is a sluggish stream winding 
in serpentine curves between banks fringed by bulrushes. 
On either side the meadows are flat and green, and 
beyond them the ground rises into heights which here 
advance towards the river in flat promontories, and there 
recede from it in shallow bays. Standing on the bridge 
and looking westward up the stream, you see on higher 
ground, at a distance of less than two miles, tall forest trees 
rising up against the sky-line, and seeming to overhang 
a square church tower. They mark the site of Weston 
Underwood. The road to it, so often trodden by the 
feet of William Cowper and Mary Unwin, runs parallel 
to the river, hardly more than half a field's breadth up the 
slope ; from the point where the road rises with the 
swell of the ground, there is a pleasant prospect over 
the broad green valley of the Ouse, a prospect loved by 

1 The old bridge, having fallen into disrepair, was pulled down 
io 1832 and replaced by a much shorter one. 



MEMOIR xxvil 

the poet and celebrated by him in the first book of The 
Task. 1 

In itself the town of Olney was mean, if not squalid, 
and a great proportion of the inhabitants miserably poor. 
Lace-making, an unwholesome sedentary occupation, was 
the principal industry, and with straw-plaiting it employed 
so many women and children that the farmers of the 
neighbourhood found it difficult to obtain hands for their 
work. In his house on the market-place, adjoining the 
lane called Silver End, the least reputable quarter of the 
town, the poet had to put up with the incessant scream- 
ing of children and barking of dogs ; and on the Fifth of 
November, when the urchins were particularly obstrep- 
erous, and engaged in a sport which they called hockey, 
but which consisted essentially in bespattering each other 
and the windows of the houses with mud, the poet was 
forced from time to time to arise in his wrath and threaten 
them with a horse-whip. Putrid exhalations, fishy fumes 
of marsh miasma, and miry roads in winter are among the 
unattractive features of Olney which Cowper has left on 
record. When William Unwin first visited his mother 
at Olney and contemplated the front of the house, he 
was shocked ; in his eyes it had the appearance of a 
prison. 

Mrs. Unwin and Cowper had been drawn from Hunt- 
ingdon to Olney by the attractions of the Rev. John 
Newton, whose clerical ministrations they expected to 
enjoy. They certainly received them in full measure, 
but whether they enjoyed them or benefited by them is 

1 Olney and its neighbourhood are described with loving fidelity 
by Hugh Miller, in his First Impressions of England and its 
People, Chapter xv. He made a pilgrimage to Olney and 
Weston in the autumn of 1845, and was so fortunate as to be 
guided over the poet's haunts by a hale old woman who well 
remembered Cowper and Mrs. Unwin. 



xxviii MEMOIR 

at least open to question. Newton, a man of robust 
constitution and iron nerve, had begun life as the captain 
of a Liverpool slaver, a profession which he afterwards ex- 
changed for that of a clergyman of the Church of England. 
That his piety was deep and sincere, and that he had 
a disinterested affection for Cowper, cannot be doubted ; 
but it seems equally certain that he was very indiscreet, 
and that the religious stimulants with which he plied 
Cowper's sensitive and highly-strung nature had a most 
pernicious influence, and were indeed a main cause of 
the terrible relapse into insanity which the poet suffered 
a few years after settling at Olney. Nor was Cowper 
the only victim of the Rev. John Newton's injudicious 
zeal. The reverend gentleman has left it on record that 
his name was " up about the country for preaching people 
mad " ; he knew near a dozen of his flock, most of them 
pious or, as he phrases it, gracious people, who were 
disordered in their minds, and he wondered whether the 
cause was the sedentary lives the women led over their 
lace-pillows, or the crowded little rooms in which they 
lived. The principal cause, if we may judge by Cowper's 
case, was Newton himself. He had engaged an unin- 
habited house called "the Great House" in Olney, and 
here he held prayer-meetings characterised by religious 
heat and excitement. At these the shy poet, who had 
already sacrificed his career in life and been driven into 
an asylum at the mere prospect of speaking in public, 
had often to lead the devotions of the godly, engaging 
aloud in extemporary prayer, the cynosure of all eyes 
and ears in the assembly. That he did so with impres- 
sive effect we are told and can well believe ; but we know 
from his own testimony that such public exhibitions cost 
him hours of great agitation before he took part in them, 
and we can easily imagine the rapid pulse, the flushed 



MEMOIR xxix 

cheek, and the throbbing head with which he issued 
from the meetings, after exposing his heart's deepest 
emotions to the scrutiny of the censorious, too often, it 
may be feared, to the mere idle curiosity of the vulgar. 
Even his walks on summer evenings were sacrificed to 
these religious exercises ; and instead of enjoying the 
fresh air and sunshine in the open fields he was shut 
up in the house listening to long-winded prayers and 
sermons till supper-time. 

The baneful effect of all this on Cowper soon mani- 
fested itself. After the settlement at Olney his letters to 
his friends first became rare and then ceased altogether. 
The correspondence with Lady Hesketh came to an end, 
and was not resumed for many years ; that with Joseph 
Hill grew perfunctory and was chiefly confined to matters 
of business, which that unwearied friend continued to 
transact for the recluse. The distance from Cambridge 
also cut him off from easy intercourse with his brother ; 
instead of meeting once a week they met now only once 
a year. In July 1769 he lost the companionship of his 
friend William Unwin, who left Olney to reside at Stock, 
near Ramsden, in Essex, of which he had been appointed 
rector. Another blow fell on the poet in March 1770, 
when his brother died of asthma at Cambridge. Cowper 
was with him in his last days, and wrote an account of 
his illness and death, which is included in his works. 
Thus more and more isolated and left to the tender 
mercies of the Rev. John Newton, Cowper gradually 
sank into a profound melancholy, which the composi- 
tion of the Olney Hymns, undertaken at Newton's sug- 
gestion by the two friends jointly in 1771, was hardly 
of a sufficiently recreative and exhilarating character to 
dispel. 

By January 1773 the melancholy had deepened into 



xxxii MEMOIR 

ventured to denounce from the pulpit the popular celebra- 
tion of Guy Fawkes's Day, and in particular to discourage 
the lighting of bonfires and the illumination of houses 
with candles on that festive evening. This was too much. 
So long as he confined himself strictly to hellfire and 
brimstone, he might be tolerated, but when he touched 
the sacred ark of bonfires and tallow candles on the Fifth 
of November, the populace rose like one man. There 
was a general explosion. On Guy Fawkes's night people 
put candles in their windows who had never done so 
before ; and those who had done so before, now put twice 
as many. Night was turned into day by the blaze of 
the illumination. A mob paraded the street, smashing 
windows and extorting money from one end of the town 
to the other. The vicarage was threatened. The curate 
committed the case to the Lord, but the Lord paid no 
attention. Providence did not interpose. The crowd 
drew near. Mrs. Newton was terrified. A flag of truce 
was sent out, a parley was held. Soft words had some 
effect, a shilling had much more ; the mob dispersed, and 
they slept in peace at the vicarage. 

So in time Mr. Newton, in the character of righteous 
Lot, turned his back on Olney and retired to London, 
where he had been presented by his friend Mr. Thornton 
to the rectory of St. Mary Woolnoth. But the parallel 
was not completed by the destruction of the wicked 
town. Olney survived his departure ; the effervescence 
stirred up by his fiery ministry subsided, and the per- 
centage of lunacy in the parish visibly declined. Peace 
of mind once more reigned at Orchard Side, and Cowper 
entered on what was perhaps the happiest period of his 
life. Not that he was then or ever afterwards perfectly 
happy ; the shadow of religious melancholy was never 
wholly absent from his mind ; it always crossed and 



MEMOIR xxxiii 

chequered the natural sunshine of his disposition and 
the outwardly calm flow of his peaceful days ; but by 
constant occupation of mind and body he was able to 
some extent to keep it under control. Of this chequered 
existence his letters henceforth present a full, almost a 
daily record, down to the time when he left his home in 
Weston to drag out the miserable remainder of his days 
in Norfolk. The principal events of these quiet years 
were the writing and the publication of his books, the 
revival of old friendships, and the acquisition of new. 
Of these outstanding incidents in the poet's otherwise 
uneventful career a brief notice may not be out of 
place. 

In the curacy of Olney Mr. Newton was succeeded by 
the Rev. Thomas Scott, author of an elephantine com- 
mentary on the Bible in one hundred and seventy-four 
parts, which achieved the distinction of breaking the un- 
fortunate publisher and reducing the commentator him- 
self to indigence. However, he was amply rewarded for 
his labours by the honour of very nearly saving John 
Henry Newman's immortal soul, 1 and by the diploma of 
p.D. forwarded to him from the " Dickensonian College, 
Carlisle, Pennsylvania," by persons whose names appear 
not to be blazoned on the beadroll of fame. His style 
of preaching was acrid : he had a low opinion of his 
parishioners, and was at no pains to conceal his opinion : 
he detected several " professors " who had more leaves 
than fruit ; and as he preached only twice a day on 
Sundays, he failed to satisfy the immoderate appetite for 
sermons which the population of Olney had contracted 

1 ' ' The writer who made a deeper impression on my mind than 
any other, and to whom (humanly speaking) I almost owe my 
soul, Thomas Scott of Aston Sandford." J. H. NEWMAN, 
Apologia pro Vita Sua (London, 1888), p. 5. 

C 



xxxiv MEMOIR 

under his predecessor, so that there was a melancholy 
falling away to Dissent. 

If Mr. Newton did much to unhinge his friend's mind, 
he at least made an attempt, after his departure from 
Olney, to repair the mischief. With this humane in- 
tention he invited Cowper to consider the parallel case of 
the Rev. Simon Browne, a respectable dissenting clergy- 
man, who having suffered a domestic bereavement or 
knocked a highwayman on the head (for accounts differ 
as to the source of his mental affliction) sank into a deep 
dejection, ending in a settled persuasion that "he had 
fallen under the sensible displeasure of God, who had 
caused his rational soul gradually to perish, and left him 
only an animal life, in common with brutes ; so that, 
though he retained the faculty of speaking in a manner 
that appeared rational to others, he had all the while no 
more notion of what he said than a parrot, being utterly 
divested of consciousness." In this melancholy situation 
Browne proposed to apply for the restitution of his lost 
soul, singularly enough, to Queen Caroline ; but the 
application being nipped in the bud by his friends, he 
devoted his shattered energies to the composition of a 
dictionary, a work for which, as he observed with some 
appearance of justice, the possession of a rational soul is 
wholly unnecessary. Later in life, sinking still lower in 
the scale of being, he turned his attention to polemical 
divinity, a subject to which his caustic remarks on dic- 
tionaries might perhaps be applied with equal force and 
even greater justice. But the spectacle of a once rational 
mind reduced to such deplorable extremities brought no 
comfort to poor Cowper. He admitted, perhaps he even 
smiled, at the delusion of the lexicographer and divine, 
but he refused to apply the lesson to his own case. 

Mr. Newton rendered Cowper a much better service 



MEMOIR xxxv 

when, on leaving Olney, he introduced him to the Rev. 
William Bull, an Independent minister residing at Newport 
Pagnell, five miles distant from Olney. A man of sober 
mind yet fine imagination, aimable disposition, literary 
tastes, and cultivated understanding, Mr. Bull was an 
entertaining companion in society, though at other times 
his vivacity was dashed with a vein of tender and delicate 
melancholy. Motives of compassion at first led him to visit 
Cowper once a fortnight ; but the two soon became good 
friends ; the poet occasionally returned his visits, and 
corresponded with him. Cowper now betook himself to 
gardening. In the plain little garden at the back of the 
house he built a couple of frames for growing pines, and 
glazed them himself with glass procured from Bedford. He 
also amused himself with carpentry, manufacturing tables 
in profusion, and joint-stools such as never were before or 
since. He also made squirrel-houses, hutches for rabbits, 
and bird-cages, as well as any squire in the country ; and 
in the article of cabbage-nets he had no superior. He 
even took to drawing, and cultivated that fine art for a 
whole year, producing as the fruit of much labour a series 
of figures which had, he assures us, the merit of being 
unparalleled by any productions either of art or nature. 
In Mrs. Unwin's eyes they were beautiful, and she had 
three of his landscapes framed and glazed. After re- 
counting his artistic exploits in one of his letters, he 
bursts out, " O ! I could spend whole days and moonlight 
nights in feeding upon a lovely prospect ! My eyes drink 
the rivers as they flow." 

Happily for the world he sought for recreation and 
found his true vocation in literature. Mrs. Unwin urged 
him to write a long poem, and suggested as a subject 
"The Progress of Error." He assented, and engaged 
in the labour of poetry with such ardour that between 



xxxvi MEMOIR 

December 1780 and March 1781 he had completed four 
long poems, The Progress of Error, Truth, Table Talk, 
and Expostulation. The task of finding a publisher was 
undertaken by Mr. Newton, who induced Mr. Joseph 
Johnson, of St. Paul's Churchyard, to accept the book. 
Johnson had already published several volumes for 
Newton, who esteemed him, though not a professing 
Christian, a man of honour and integrity ; indeed he 
admitted with regret that " professors," by which in the 
cant of his sect he meant persons who make open pro- 
fession of religion, " in general find they may more safely 
depend upon the people of the world, than upon one 
another." A sad testimony for a " professor " to bear to 
" professors ! " Henceforth all Cowper's works were pub- 
lished by Johnson, and though the poet often repined at 
the slowness of the printing press he seems to have had 
no other ground for complaint against his publisher ; 
indeed after many years of business relations with him 
the poet expressed his belief, and apparently his astonish- 
ment, that " though a bookseller, he has in him the soul 
of a gentleman." To the credit of his discernment, 
Johnson manifested more than common interest in 
Cowper's poems ; he read them critically in the proof- 
sheets and marked several defective passages, which the 
candid author corrected with grateful acknowledgments 
to his censor and publisher. The book went slowly 
through the press ; the printing dragged out through the 
whole of the summer and autumn of 1781, and the 
volume was not published till March 1782. But the 
delay was attended by a great advantage ; the author 
was not only able to polish the original poems in accord- 
ance with his opinion that to touch and retouch is the 
secret of almost all good writing ; with the encourage- 
ment of his publisher he added several fresh poems, 



MEMOIR xxxvii 

including Conversation and Retirement. At Cowper's re- 
quest Newton wrote a preface for the volume, but its serious 
tone frightened the publisher, who thought that, while it 
might attract the pious, it would disgust the profane ; and 
as he apparently rested his hopes of the sale of the work 
rather on the profane than on the pious part of the public, 
he earnestly recommended that the obnoxious preface 
should be withdrawn. Cowper regretfully and Newton 
honourably acquiesced. It was not till the volume had 
run through four editions and could stand on its own 
merits that Johnson ventured to prefix to it Newton's 
well-meant tribute to his friend's poetry. 

The summer of 1781, when Cowper was busy with his 
poetical labours and the correction of the press, was very 
hot ; the fields languished and the upland grass was 
burnt. In order to procure some coolness and shade in 
the garden, where the heat reflected from the walls and 
the gravel seemed like that of Africa, Cowper converted 
a small greenhouse into a summer parlour. The walls 
were hung with mats, the floor covered with a carpet, 
and the sun for the most part excluded by an awning ; 
and in this pleasant nook, with myrtles looking in at the 
window, and a prospect of rows of pinks and beans, of 
carnations and roses blooming in the sunshine outside, 
the poet and his friends passed the heat of the day in 
happy converse or contented silence, while the rustling 
of the wind in the trees, the singing of birds, and 
the hum of bees in a bed of mignonette made music 
in their ears. 

For by this time the domestic circle at Orchard 
Side was enlarged by an important addition. One 
day, looking out of the parlour window on the market- 
place, Cowper saw two ladies calling at a shop opposite. 
One of them he knew ; she was Mrs. Jones, wife of a 



xxxviii MEMOIR 

clergyman who resided at the village of Clifton within 
a mile of Olney. But who was the other? Cowper's 
curiosity was aroused ; he made enquiries, and it turned 
out that she was Lady Austen, sister of Mrs. Jones and 
widow of Sir Robert Austen, a baronet. Struck by her 
appearance, the poet persuaded Mrs. Unwin to ask the 
two ladies to tea, though when they came, his shyness 
getting the better of him, he could hardly be prevailed 
on to face the stranger. However, having forced himself 
to engage in conversation with Lady Austen, a lively 
agreeable woman of the world, he was so stirred and 
attracted by her that he escorted the two ladies back to 
Clifton, and cultivated his new acquaintance with such 
assiduity that he soon came to call her by the familiar 
title of " Sister Ann." On her side, Lady Austen found 
the society at Orchard Side no less to her mind ; and the 
two families were quickly on the most intimate terms. 
One fine July day they picnicked together in the Spinney, 
a delightful bower in Weston Park. The eatables and 
drinkables were conveyed to the spot in a wheelbarrow ; 
the servants boiled the kettle under a great elm ; the 
wheelbarrow served as a tea-table ; and after a walk in 
the neighbouring Wilderness the friends returned home, 
having spent the day together from noon till evening 
without one cross occurrence, or the least weariness of 
each other. 

So pleased indeed was Lady Austen with Olney and 
its society, that she thought of settling in it as soon as 
she could dispose of her house in London. Cowper 
welcomed the prospect for Mrs. Unwin's sake as well 
as his own ; for since the departure of the Newtons 
she had had no female friends in the place, nor even a 
woman with whom she could converse in any emergency. 
With her high spirits, lively fancy, and ready flow of con- 



MEMOIR xxxix 

versation Lady Austen promised to introduce a sprightli- 
ness into the calm home, which, if it was peaceful before, 
might be none the worse for being a little enlivened. 
For a time the promise was fulfilled, the fair prospect 
was unclouded ; and when Lady Austen returned to 
London in October the two friends at Orchard Side missed 
her. Cowper and she corresponded ; but when she 
expressed too romantic an idea of the merits of her new 
friends, and too high-flown expectations of happiness 
from her intercourse with them, Cowper was constrained 
to check these effusions in a letter which gave deep 
offence, and for a while all correspondence between them 
ceased. 

However, in time the lady relented and sent a peace- 
offering of ruffles, which was accepted. The breach 
was healed, and in the following summer (1782) Lady 
Austen returned to the house of her sister, situated on 
the brow of a hill, the foot of which is washed by the 
river Ouse as it flows between Clifton and Olney. But 
in the absence of Mr. Jones, the house was beseiged 
by burglars every night, and the ladies, worn out with 
watching and repeated alarms, were at last prevailed 
on to take refuge with Mrs. Unwin at Olney. When 
Mr. Jones returned and men with firearms had put the 
ruffians to flight, Mrs. Jones went back to the house, 
but Lady Austen remained in Olney, and lodgings 
were taken for her at the vicarage. Only an orchard 
divided the garden of the vicarage from the garden 
of Cowper's house ; and to facilitate communication 
doors were opened in the two garden walls, so that 
the inmates of the houses could meet when they pleased 
without going through the dirty streets of the town. 
They now saw each other daily and for many hours a 
day. They met every morning, dined with each other 



xl MEMOIR 

alternately except on Sundays, and did not separate 
till ten or eleven at night. In the morning Cowper 
walked with the ladies, in the afternoon he wound thread 
for them, in the evening he played at battledore and 
shuttlecock with one of them, while the other played on 
the harpsichord, and a little dog, lying under the per- 
former's chair, howled an accompaniment. 

On the whole, this social intercourse, while it imposed 
a heavy tax on Cowper's time, was highly beneficial to his 
health and spirits. The gay, vivacious Lady Austen dis- 
pelled for a time the clouds of melancholy which too often 
hung over him ; she was the Muse who inspired the most 
sportive and some of the most serious of his poems. He 
composed songs for her to sing to the harpsichord ; 
amongst others the Dirge for the Royal George was 
written to suit one of her favourite airs. Another day, 
seeing him sunk in dejection, she told him the story of 
John Gilpin. Next morning he said that he had lain 
awake most of the night laughing at the story, and that 
he had turned it into a ballad. The ballad was eagerly 
copied, and finding its way into the newspapers was 
publicly recited by the comedian Henderson with great 
success. It became very popular before Cowper publicly 
acknowledged it by printing it along with The Task in 
the second volume of his poetry. The theme of the The 
Task itself, the greatest of his poems, and one of the most 
delightful works in the English language, was suggested 
by Lady Austen. She had often urged him to try his 
hand at blank verse, and he promised to comply if she 
would find him a subject. " Oh," she answered, " you 
can never be in want of a subject ; you can write upon 
any ; write upon this sofa ! " The poet took the hint and 
set to work on The Task early in the summer of 1783. 
Writing sometimes an hour a day, sometimes half an 



MEMOIR xli 

hour, and sometimes two hours, often in great depression 
of spirits, he completed the poem in the autumn of the 
following year, but it was not published till June 1785. 
In the interval the friendship with Lady Austen was 
severed for ever, and in the summer of 1784 she had 
left Olney not to return. The cause of the breach has 
not been fully ascertained ; but on the whole it seems 
probable that she was in love with Cowper and wished 
to marry him ; that Mrs. Unwin was jealous, and that 
Cowper, too deeply attached to his Mary to dream of 
wounding her loving and faithful heart, renounced for 
her sake all relations with his brilliant and fascinating 
friend. He bade her farewell in a letter which, in a burst 
of mortification and pique, she destroyed. 1 

But if Cowper lost a friend in Lady Austen, he about 
the same time gained new friends in the Throckmortons 
of the Hall at Weston Underwood. Their house, which 
has long since been razed to the ground, stood in an old- 
fashioned park, which skirts the high road from Olney at 
the point where it enters the village. The head of the 
Throckmorton family was then Sir Robert Throckmorton, 
a very old gentleman, who resided at his seat of Buck- 
lands in Berkshire. On the death of an elder brother in 
1782 Mr. (afterwards Sir) John Throckmorton came into 
possession of Weston Park. With his predecessor at the 
Park Cowper had had no relations, though he had been 
favoured with a key to the pleasure-grounds, and thus 
had been able to enjoy those rural walks and scenes 
which he has immortalised in the first book of The Task, 
the umbrageous avenue of chestnuts the rustic bridge 
where the willows dipped their pendant boughs in the 

1 Lady Austen, who had resided much in France, afterwards 
married an accomplished Frenchman, M. de Tardiff, and died at 
Paris, in 1802, two years after Cowper. 



xlii MEMOIR 

stream the proud alcove crowning the summit, with its 
far prospect over the nearer woodlands to the winding 
Ouse the lime-tree walk with its high verdurous arch like 
a cathedral aisle, and the ground dappled with dancing 
lights and shadows as the wind stirred the light leaves 
overhead the Wilderness with its well-rolled paths of easy 
sweep and last the elm-grove, from between whose 
stately trunks on autumn days the thresher might be 
discerned sweating at his task, while the chaff flew wide 
and the straw sent up a mist of motes that sparkled in 
the noonday sunshine. 

When Mr. John Throckmorton came to reside in 
Weston, Cowper sent him a complimentary card, and re- 
quested a continuance of the privilege which he had en- 
joyed by the favour of Mr. Throckmorton's mother, who had 
gone to end her days at Bath. The request was readily 
granted, but for about two years there was no intercourse 
between the families at Olney and Weston. The Throck- 
mortons were Catholics, and having on that account 
received many gross affronts after they settled at Weston, 
they were naturally shy of making new acquaintances. 
However, in May 1784, when balloons had just come into 
fashion, Mr. Throckmorton determined to send up one 
from his park, and among the neighbours whom he 
invited to witness the ascent were Cowper and Mrs. 
Unwin. They went and were received by the Throck- 
mortons with particular civility. A warm regard on both 
sides was the result of the happy meeting. Cowper 
found Mr. Throckmorton most agreeable and engaging, 
and in Mrs. Throckmorton, " young, genteel, and hand- 
some," he saw a "consummate assemblage of all that 
is called good-nature, complaisance, and innocent cheer- 
fulness." They on their side appear to have been no less 
pleased with their visitors. A few days later, when 



MEMOIR xliii 

Cowper and Mrs. Unwin were sheltering from a shower 
under a large elm in a grove fronting Weston Hall, Mrs. 
Throckmorton ran out to them in the rain, and insisted 
on their coming into the house till the weather cleared. 
Again, a few days passed, and Cowper and Mrs. Unwin 
on a walk through the park had almost reached the 
gate, when the iron gate of the courtyard rang, and they 
saw Mr. Throckmorton hastily advancing to them. He 
came to offer them the key of the garden, the only part 
of his grounds where he and his wife enjoyed perfect 
privacy. It was not long afterwards before the friends 
stood on a footing of cordial intimacy. Cowper was 
given full access to the library, a valuable privilege to 
one so fond of books, and so poorly provided with them ; 
for though he had owned a good collection of books 
when he resided in the Temple, he lost it on his removal 
to St. Albans, and his efforts afterwards to recover it 
were fruitless. 

The publication of The Task and John Gilpin in the 
summer of 1885 made Cowper famous. Even his neigh- 
bours at Olney and neighbours are generally the last 
to recognise that there can be anything out of the 
common in a man whom they see walking about every 
day admitted that their fellow-townsman was a genius. 
The curate, Mr. Scott, expressed his admiration, and the 
schoolmaster, Samuel Teedon, carefully pointed out to 
the author all the beauties in his own poems, lest the 
poet himself should have overlooked them. But better 
than the fame, deserved as it was, and lasting as it has 
proved, which the volume brought him, was the renewal 
of his friendship with his beloved cousin, Lady Hesketh. 
After a mutual silence of many years she wrote to him 
in the autumn of 1785, and the letter came like sunshine 
into the quiet parlour at Orchard Side. 



xliv MEMOIR 

It would be doing great injustice to Lady Hesketh to 
suppose that it was the establishment of Cowper's reputa- 
tion which induced her, as it seems to have induced other 
friends of former days, Thurlow and Colman, to renew 
acquaintance with him. She had ceased to correspond with 
him when he sank into a religious melancholy which she 
deplored, and which, with characteristic good sense, she 
attributed in large measure to its real cause, the eternal 
praying and preaching of Mr. Newton. She renewed the 
correspondence with her cousin, whom she always loved 
and befriended, when his published writings gave evidence 
that he had recovered a healthier tone of mind, and when 
accordingly she need not fear being drawn by him into 
a bootless religious controversy. She seems to have 
been an admirable woman, of a good understanding, a 
cheerful equable temper, and a warm heart. From her 
portrait, painted by Cotes in 1755, we may judge that she 
was handsome ; those who remembered her in her prime 
spoke of her as a brilliant beauty who drew all eyes on 
her at Ranelagh. 

It was a happy day for Cowper when, coming down to 
breakfast on an October morning in 1785, he saw on the 
table a letter franked by his uncle, Ashley Cowper, and on 
opening it found a letter from Lady Hesketh. It was the 
beginning of a fresh correspondence in which he poured 
out to her all the wealth of his brotherly affection, all the 
playful humour and gaiety of his naturally serene and 
cheerful disposition. In one of his early letters to her at 
this period, in answer perhaps to some enquiries of hers, 
he describes himself as a very smart youth of his years 
(which were fifty-four in number), rather bald than grey, 
with enough hair of his own to curl at his ears, and to 
hang down a little below the bag-wig which he wore, 
with a black riband about his neck. From his account 



MEMOIR xlv 

of himself in The Task, published that summer, we 
know that advancing years had not yet pilfered from him 

' ' The elastic spring of an unwearied foot 

That mounts the stile with ease, or leaps the fence, 
That play of lungs inhaling and again 
Respiring freely the fresh air, that makes 
Swift pace or steep ascent no toil to me." 

Nor had they impaired his relish of fair prospects ; the 
scenes that soothed and charmed him in his youth still 
soothed and charmed him growing old, when he gazed 
on them with his arm fast locked in hers, the dear com- 
panion of his walks through twenty winters. 

With the renewal of her correspondence Lady Hesketh, 
now a widow by the death of Sir Thomas Hesketh a few 
years before, opened the springs of her bounty, and 
Cowper's letters to her are full of thanks for the substantial 
marks of her kindness and affection which frequently 
arrived at Orchard Side. With them, too, came from 
time to time presents from a nameless benefactor, whom 
Cowper calls Anonymous, and who appears to have been, 
though he never guessed the secret, his forgotten, but 
never forgetful love, Theodora Cowper. From writing to 
his cousin it was natural that Cowper should entertain 
the wish to see her again. The wish was mutual and 
was shared by Mrs. Unwin. Accordingly during the 
winter it was arranged between them that Lady Hesketh 
should come to them at Olney in the following June. As 
Orchard Side was not commodious enough to lodge her 
and her servants in comfort, apartments were engaged 
for her at a house opposite. 

Thenceforth Cowper's letters to his cousin contain many 
references to the pleasure which he anticipated from her 
visit in the coming summer. Seated by the fireside one 
wintry afternoon he saw her chamber windows across the 



xlvi MEMOIR 

way coated with snow, and he thought how the roses would 
begin to blow and the heat perhaps to be troublesome before 
Lady Hesketh would be with them. And as the time drew 
nearer his impatience to see her increased. In his letters 
he speaks of the walks they would take together, especially 
to Weston, their pleasantest retreat of all, though the road 
thither was shadeless all the way. But he went no more, 
he said, to the field by the Ouse where the poplars used 
to make a cool colonnade, their tops rustling in the 
breeze and their images reflected in the placid stream ; 
for the trees were felled, and though the prospect from 
the field was still beautiful, it had ceased to attract him. 
And writing one May morning, while the grass under the 
windows was bespangled with dewdrops and the birds 
were singing among the blossoms of the apple-trees, he 
tells how the day before they had taken their customary 
walk in the Wilderness at Weston, had seen with regret 
the laburnums, syringas, and guelder-roses, some in bloom, 
some about to blow, and had remembered that all these 
would be gone by the time Lady Hesketh was come. 
And though he consoled himself with the thought that 
there would be roses, and jasmine, and honeysuckle, and 
shady walks, and cool alcoves, yet he grudged that the 
advance of the season should steal away a single pleasure 
before she could come to enjoy it. 

Lodgings were finally engaged for her, not at the 
house opposite Orchard Side, but at the vicarage, the 
same lodgings which Lady Austen had occupied before. 
The vicarage was then in a dreary comfortless con- 
dition, almost bare of furniture, for the vicar, Moses 
Browne, an old man of eighty-six, lived in it alone, without 
even a servant, and waited on only by a woman who 
made his bed, dressed his dinner, and left him to his 
lucubrations. Furniture had to be put in and other 



MEMOIR xlvii 

preparations made for the comfort of Lady Hesketh and 
the three servants she was to bring with her. These 
arrangements were actively carried out by Mrs. Unwin, 
and Cowper in his letters to his cousin describes the 
house, and the smart furniture with which, under Mrs. 
Unwin's superintendence, it was being garnished. The 
vicarage was a new house, neatly built of stone with sash 
windows ; the square garden was enclosed with walls, but 
was shadeless except for the shadow of the house ; the 
windows of Lady Hesketh's chamber commanded a view 
over the meadows and the river, with the long bridge 
occupying a conspicuous place in the foreground, and the 
road winding away in the distance. Her bed was draped 
with a superb coverlet of printed cotton adorned with 
classical subjects ; every morning she would open her 
eyes on Phaethon kneeling to Apollo, and imploring him 
to grant him the conduct of the chariot of the sun for a day. 
So at last, after some delays and disappointments, 
Lady Hesketh arrived, and in her cheerful company 
Cowper and Mrs. Unwin were happier than they had 
ever been before at Olney. Nor were they the only 
people in the town to whom the presence of the kind- 
hearted lady brought smiles and sunshine. Every time 
she went out she took with her coppers in a velvet 
bag with which she made the children happy. Many 
years afterwards, when Cowper and his friends had long 
been dead and gone, an old woman of Olney remembered 
this Lady Bountiful, and the poet himself in his white 
cap and suit of green turned up with buff, 1 and the little 

1 Hugh Miller, First Impressions of England and its People 
(Edinburgh, 1889), chapter xv. , pp. 253 sq. The old woman said 
"green turned up with black," but I have ventured to correct 
her memory by Cowper's own statement : ' ' Green and buff are 
colours in which I am oftener seen than in any others, and are 
become almost as natural to me as to a parrot." 



xlviii MEMOIR 

dog Beau trotting beside them a smart petted creature 
with silken ears, who one summer day made himself 
famous for ever by plunging into the Ouse and bringing 
back in his mouth a water-lily which his master had 
vainly tried to reach with his stick. 

The arrival of Lady Hesketh at Olney soon led to an 
important change in the life of her two friends. She was 
dissatisfied, not without cause, both with Olney and with 
their house. Cowper and Mrs. Unwin were fond of rural 
walks, and largely depended on them for the maintenance 
of their health and spirits ; but at Olney they had suffered 
much in health from confinement, for in winter the roads 
in the neighbourhood were muddy and in summer they 
were hot and shadeless, so that by the time the two 
friends reached their favourite haunt, the woods of 
Weston, they were tired, and it was time to return. A 
gravel walk in their garden, about thirty yards long, was 
the only promenade on which they could count in all 
weathers, and as Cowper observed, it afforded but in- 
different scope to the locomotive faculty ; the battlements 
of the Tower, he says, had he been confined a prisoner 
to that fortress, would have furnished him with a larger 
space for exercise. Fortunately at this time a good house, 
belonging to Mr. Throckmorton and close to his pleasure- 
grounds, was vacant at Weston ; within a few days of 
Lady Hesketh's arrival it was settled that the friends 
were to take it and move into it in the autumn. 1 

Cowper was delighted with the prospect. " Lady 
Hesketh," he writes, " is our good angel, by whose aid we 
are enabled to pass into a better air, and a more walkable 

1 From Letters CLXXIV. and CLXXV. we see that Lady 
Hesketh had not arrived at Olney by June 12, 1786, and that by 
June 19, only a week later, the house was already taken and the 
removal settled. 



MEMOIR xlix 

country. The imprisonment that we have suffered here 
for so many winters has hurt us both. That we may suffer 
it no longer, she stoops to Olney, lifts us from our swamp, 
and sets us down on the elevated grounds of Weston 
Underwood." The village of Weston, he says, is one of 
the prettiest villages in England, terminated at one end by 
the church tower seen through trees and at the other by 
a very handsome gateway, opening into a fine grove of 
elms ; and the walks round about are at all seasons of 
the year delightful. 1 The house itself, facing the village 
street on one side and a garden and orchard on the other, 
is a pleasant commodious old dwelling ; and though in 
poetical language Cowper might call it a cottage or a 
hermitage, he reminds us that when poets speak of such 
a thing they always mean a house with six sash windows 
in front, two comfortable parlours, a smart staircase, and 
three bedrooms of convenient size ; in short, a house 
answering exactly to the Lodge at Weston, which was 
to be thenceforth his home. Lady Hesketh spared no 
expense in fitting up the house for the comfort of the new 
tenants, and they moved into it on the i6th of November 
1786. Their old house at Olney had been falling into 
disrepair and threatened to tumble about their ears ; and 
when it stood empty the candidates for the tenancy were 
a shoemaker and a publican, who kept the Horse and 
Groom at Olney. Yet the poet tells us that he could not 
look for the last time without a pang of regret on the 
ruinous abode, where he had been unhappy for so many 
years, and that he felt something like a heartache at 

1 The village and the park seem to have changed very little since 
Cowper's time, except that the Hall has been pulled down, and the 
road now runs through " the very handsome gateway" mentioned 
by the poet. The church is a plain grey building with a short 
square tower, standing on somewhat higher ground at the western 
end of the village. 

d 



1 MEMOIR 

bidding farewell to a scene that had nothing in itself to 
engage affection. 

But when the domestic chaos inseparable from the 
removal to a new house had somewhat subsided, Cowper 
began thoroughly to enjoy his new surroundings. Though 
the weather was wintry, the house was always snug and 
warm, and he could ramble every day in a new direc- 
tion with short grass under his feet, and come home 
after a walk of five miles with shoes not too dirty for a 
drawing-room. On these rambles he was sometimes 
joined by the Throckmortons, who continued to be the 
most obliging of neighbours. In their company he walked 
to the cliff, a beautiful terrace sloping gently down to the 
Ouse, from the brow of which the view over the valley far 
surpassed any that could be had from what Cowper calls 
the hills near Olney. But scarcely had the friends begun 
to enjoy the pleasantness of their new situation, and to find 
as much comfort as the season of the year would permit, 
when their happiness was marred by a heavy bereave- 
ment. William Unwin, Cowper's friend and Mrs. Umvin's 
son, died of a putrid fever at Winchester, on a tour which 
he had taken with a friend to the west of England. He 
is buried in the south aisle of Winchester Cathedral. 

After he had finished The Task and sent away the last 
proof-sheet corrected, Cowper very soon felt the need of 
engaging in some other literary labour in order to divert 
his thoughts from the melancholy themes on which, in 
hours of idleness, he was apt to brood. One day, being 
in great distress of mind, he took up the Iliad, and, merely 
to turn his attention, translated the first twelve lines of 
the poem. The same necessity pressing on him, he had 
recourse again and again to the same expedient, till 
gradually he conceived the plan of making a complete new 
verse translation of Homer. Upon this task he soon set 



MEMOIR ll 

to work in earnest ; it furnished him with unremitting 
occupation for about six years, proving indeed, though 
not the most important, by far the most laborious of his 
literary undertakings. The translation was begun at 
Olney in 1785, only a few weeks after the completion of 
The Task ; and the book was published by subscription 
in two handsome quarto volumes by Joseph Johnson at 
London in July 1791. 

In the interval his letters contain many allusions to 
his strenuous labours in the Homeric field, and many 
valuable critical remarks on the literary art. It is im- 
possible to read them, and similar remarks scattered 
through his correspondence, without recognising the 
endless pains which Cowper took to give the most 
perfect polish he could command to every one of the 
many thousands of verses which flowed from his pen. 
Yet it may be safely affirmed that no writer has left 
fewer traces of the literary file than he has done in 
his writings. All his productions are characterised by a 
seemingly spontaneous and natural flow, as if they had 
tripped off his pen without premeditation and without 
effort. It is only from his own frank and repeated con- 
fessions, or rather professions, that we learn the labour 
that it cost him thus to give to art the appearance of nature. 
On the other hand he tells us, and there is every reason 
to believe him, that he took no pains whatever with the 
composition of his letters, but reeled them off helter- 
skelter as fast as his pen would run. The reason for the 
difference was that while his poems, at least all the longer 
ones, were intended for the public eye, his letters were 
written purely for his private friends, and he never dreamed 
of their being published. He did not, like Pope, sit at his 
desk with one eye turned to his correspondent and the 
other, the weather eye, fixed immovably upon the public ; 



Hi MEMOIR 

his object was simply to chat with a friend at a distance, 
it was not, like that of the little man at Twickenham, to 
pose before the world as a paragon of virtue and genius. 
All such literary artifices, indeed affectations of every 
sort, were abhorrent to the honest mind of Cowper. 
That is why the letters of Pope are so nauseous, and 
the letters of Cowper so delightful. The letters of the 
one reek of the midnight oil, the letters of the other 
breathe the fresh perfume of the flowers and the fields he 
loved. Many of Cowper's original letters are preserved, 
and they fully bear out all that he himself tells us as to 
the perfect ease and fluency with which they were written ; 
for " they are in a clear, beautiful, running hand, and it is 
rarely that an erasure occurs in them, or the slightest 
alteration of phrase." 1 

While we may regret that Cowper devoted to a trans- 
lation of Homer the time and labour which might have 
been better employed in the composition of original 
masterpieces, we must admit that in his mental state 
constant literary occupation was almost a necessity for 
him, and that so far as he found it in Homer, he benefited 
personally by his devotion to the task, though the world 
in general was the loser by it. In the execution of the 
laborious undertaking he received much cordial assistance 
of various kinds from friends. Not long after he had put 
himself into the Homeric harness, he received a visit from 
his old schoolfellow, the Rev. Walter Bagot, who hearing 
of the poet's new venture subscribed to the translation, 
and undertook to procure subscriptions among his 
friends and acquaintances, many of them people of 
high rank and wealth. Cowper's old and ever-faithful 

1 The Life and Works of William Cowper, by Robert Sou they, 
vol. i. p. 314. Some of the letters are now exhibited in the poet's 
house at Olney, which has been turned into a museum. They 
confirm Southey's description. 



MEMOIR liii 

friend, Joseph Hill, also bestirred himself in beating up 
for subscribers to the Homer. A new friend, who helped 
him in the labour of transcribing his translation for the 
press, was a young man, Samuel Rose. The son of a 
schoolmaster at Chiswick, he studied at the University of 
Glasgow, and on his way from Glasgow to London in 
January 1787, turned six miles out of his way to visit 
Cowper at Weston, drawn by his admiration of the poet's 
writings, and charged with compliments for him from 
some of the Scotch professors. Next year he paid a visit 
to Weston, when Lady Hesketh was also staying there, 
and in a letter written at the time he has given a pleasing 
account of the happy regular life they led in each other's 
company. They breakfasted about half-past nine, and 
spent an hour over it in lively conversation, enjoying 
themselves most wonderfully. Then they separated to 
their various tasks and occupations ; Cowper to translate 
Homer, Rose to copy what was already translated, Lady 
Hesketh to work or read, "and Mrs. Unwin, who in 
everything but her face, is like a kind angel sent from 
heaven to guard the health of our poet, is busy in domestic 
concerns. At one, our labours finished, the poet and I 
walk for two hours. I then drink most plentiful draughts 
of instruction which flow from his lips, instruction so 
sweet, and goodness so exquisite, that one loves it for its 
flavour. At three we return and dress, and the succeeding 
hour brings dinner upon the table, and collects again the 
smiling countenances of the family to partake of the neat 
and elegant meal. Conversation continues till tea-time ; 
when an entertaining volume engrosses our thoughts till 
the last meal is announced. Conversation again, and then 
rest before twelve, to enable us to rise again to the same 
round of innocent, virtuous pleasure. Can you wonder that 
I should feel melancholy at the thought of leaving such a 



liv MEMOIR 

family ; or rather, will you not be surprised at my 
resolution to depart from this quiet scene on Thursday 
next?" It was through Rose that Cowper became ac- 
quainted with the poetry of Burns, for whose natural 
genius he expresses admiration, though he wishes that 
the Scotch bard would divest himself of his "uncouth 
dialect," and " content himself with writing pure English, 
in which he appears perfectly qualified to excel." 

Several years later, in January 1790, Cowper made 
the personal acquaintance of a young kinsman, who 
was to play a very important part in the remainder of 
the poet's life. This was John Johnson, " Johnny of 
Norfolk," as Cowper familiarly calls him. He was a 
grandson of Cowper's maternal uncle, Roger Donne, 
who had been rector of Catfield in Norfolk. At this 
time he was a student at Cambridge and made use of 
a Christmas vacation to introduce himself to his now 
famous relative at Weston. Cowper conceived a warm 
affection for the young man, who, though somewhat bash- 
ful, appears to have been very engaging, full of light- 
hearted gaiety and humour. When he was about to take 
orders not long afterwards, Cowper warned him to adopt 
a somewhat more sober deportment, inasmuch as the 
spectacle of a skipping, curvetting, bounding divine might 
not be altogether to the taste of his parishioners. The youth 
returned the poet's affection, and when he left Weston, 
after his first visit, he carried off with him several books 
of Homer to write out fair from Cowper's foul copy. On 
the completion of the whole work in September 1790, 
young Johnson conveyed the precious and voluminous 
manuscript, the result of five years' labour, to his name- 
sake the publisher in London. " He has gone," says 
Cowper, "with a box full of poetry, of which I think no- 
body will plunder him. He has only to say what it is, 



MEMOIR lv 

and there is no commodity I think a freebooter would 
covet less." 

Another indirect result of John Johnson's first visit to 
Weston was to give birth to one of Cowper's most justly 
celebrated poems. The young man had observed with 
what affection Cowper spoke of his mother. The only 
portrait of her in existence was in possession of her niece 
Mrs. Bodham, Johnson's aunt, whom the poet had known 
and loved in her childhood. She was his cousin, Anne 
Donne, daughter of his mother's brother. Born at Catfield 
in Norfolk in 1748, she married in 1781 the Rev, Thomas 
Bodham, of Mattishall Hall in Norfolk, whom she sur- 
vived for nearly fifty years, dying at a great age in 1846. 
On hearing from her nephew of the tender memories 
which Cowper cherished of his mother, Mrs. Bodham 
kindly and generously made him a present of the portrait. 
The arrival of the picture made a deep impression on 
him ; he thanked Mrs. Bodham warmly for it, and cele- 
brated the event in immortal verse. 

Among those who took a warm interest in the progress 
of Cowper's translation of Homer were his attached 
friends at Weston Park, the Throckmortons. Both Mrs. 
Throckmorton and her husband's younger brother, 
Mr. George Throckmorton (afterwards Mr. Courtenay), 
acted as his amanuensis in making fair copies of his 
rough manuscript. When Lady Hesketh visited Cowper 
for the first time at Olney in the summer of 1786, she 
transcribed Homer for him, but on her departure Mrs. 
Throckmorton solicited the office of scribe and undertook 
to be the translator's " lady of the ink-bottle " for the rest 
of the winter. At the same time, when the move to 
Weston had been decided on, but not yet carried out, 
the reserve between the friends wearing off, Mr. Throck- 
morton talked to Cowper with great pleasure of the 



Ivi MEMOIR 

comfort he proposed to himself from their winter-evening 
conversations, his purpose apparently being that the two 
families should spend their evenings alternately with 
each other. These happy anticipations appear to have 
been perfectly fulfilled so long as the Throckmortons, or 
Frogs, as Cowper affectionately calls them, continued to 
reside at Weston. In Cowper's letters there are many 
pleasing glimpses of the constant and friendly intercourse 
between the Lodge and the Hall. One day, for example, 
when he was expecting Lady Hesketh's arrival and 
was doubtful which of two roads she should take, one 
being heavy and the other rough, he met the Frogs 
armed with bows and arrows going to practise at the 
target in the garden. On putting the question to them, 
Mrs. Frog cut a caper on the grass-plot and said she 
would go ride to Olney immediately on purpose to 
examine the road. Sometimes Mrs. Frog drove him 
over to pay a morning call on the Chesters at Chicheley. 
On one of these occasions, dressed in state for the call, 
and awaiting the arrival of two chaises, with a strong 
party of ladies, the shy poet looked with envy at a poor 
old woman coming up the lane, and thought how happy 
she was to be exempted by her situation in life from 
making herself fine of a morning and going in a chaise to 
pay visits. He was more at his ease in a quiet sociable 
evening at the Hall, while Mr. Throckmorton spoke to 
him of his Homer "with sparkling eyes and a face 
expressive of the highest pleasure," or Mrs. Throckmorton 
played to him on the harpsichord. 

These kind neighbours he lost in March 1792, when on 
the death of his father, Sir Robert Throckmorton, Mr. 
John Throckmorton succeeded to the baronetcy and re- 
moved with his wife, now Lady Throckmorton, to the 
family estate of Bucklands in Berkshire. He was sue- 



MEMOIR Ivii 

ceeded at Weston Hall by his younger brother George 
Throckmorton, who had changed his name to Courtenay. 
His wife Mrs. Courtenay was Cowper's correspondent 
Catharina. She had been a Miss Stapleton, and even 
before her marriage Cowper had known and liked her at 
the Hall, where she played and sang like an angel. Her 
union with Mr. Courtenay, which took place in the 
summer of 1792, made the poet happy. She and her 
husband proved no less kind and friendly neighbours 
than their predecessors. When Cowper went to the Hall 
to pay his first visit to them after their marriage, 
Mr. Courtenay flew into the court to meet him, and 
when he entered the parlour Catharina sprang into 
his arms. 

But the poet went that summer day alone to the Hall. 
A great sorrow had befallen him. For some years Mrs. 
Unwin's health had been failing. In January 1789 she 
fell on the gravel walk, then slippery with ice, and though 
she neither broke nor dislocated any bones, she received 
an injury which for a time crippled her entirely. She 
recovered the power of walking and resumed her house- 
hold duties, but it may be doubted whether she ever was 
quite strong again. In the following summer Cowper 
mentions that the day before he had dined with Mrs. 
Throckmorton alone at the Hall, the ways being miry 
and Mrs. Unwin no longer able to walk in pattens or 
clogs. During the next two years she suffered almost 
constantly from a pain in her side, which nearly forbade 
her the use of the pen, so that she could not transcribe 
Cowper's verses. 

But much worse was to follow. One Saturday in 
December 1791, while Cowper was at his desk near 
the window and Mrs. Unwin was seated in her chair 
at the fireside, he suddenly heard her cry, " Oh ! Mr. 



Iviii MEMOIR 

Cowper, don't let me fall ! " He sprang to her and 
with difficulty caught and raised her as she was falling 
with her chair to the floor. She had been seized with a 
violent dizziness, which affected her sight and her speech, 
though she did not lose consciousness. It was a paralytic 
stroke. However, the symptoms gradually abated, and 
she slowly recovered. But in the following May (1792) 
she was struck again, this time much more severely ; her 
speech became almost unintelligible, her features distorted, 
she could hardly open her eyes, and she lost entirely the 
use of her right hand and arm. Nevertheless she again 
partially recovered ; electricity was applied with seemingly 
good results. Early in June her speech was nearly perfect, 
her eyes open almost all day, and her step greatly 
improved. By the middle of the month, though still 
feeble, she could walk down and up stairs, leaning with 
one hand on Cowper's arm and the other on the 
balustrade. In this sad and anxious time Cowper seems 
to have borne up wonderfully, exerting himself to the 
utmost to repay by unremitting attention to the beloved 
invalid all the care that for so many years she had lavished 
on him. Writing to his publisher in July he says : " Days, 
weeks, and months escape me, and nothing is done, nor 
is it possible for me to do anything that demands study 
and attention in the present state of our family. I am the 
electrician ; I am the escort into the garden ; I am wanted, 
in short, on a hundred little occasions that occur every 
day in Mrs. Unwin's present state of infirmity ; and I see 
no probability that I shall be less occupied in the same 
indispensable duties for a long time to come." Indeed, 
the two fast friends had seen their brightest hours 
together, and the clouded evening of their life drew on 
apace. Yet even now the descending sun broke through 
the gathering clouds to bid them a last, a sweet farewell. 



MEMOIR lix 

They had made a new friend who was to cheer and 
comfort them both for a while in their sad decline. The 
friend was William Hayley. 

Immediately on the conclusion of his long Homeric 
labours Cowper, to whose mental health steady occupa- 
tion was essential, cast about for something else to do, 
and thought for a while that he had found it in editing 
and annotating a splendid edition of Milton's poetical 
works, which was to be published by Joseph Johnson, and 
illustrated with thirty pictures by the painter Fuseli, a 
man of fine literary taste, who had criticised minutely 
the proof-sheets of Cowper's Homer. In spite of the 
poet's warm admiration for Milton and his intimate 
acquaintance with his poetry, the office of editor and 
commentator imposed an irksome restraint on his 
original genius, curbing and bridling his Pegasus even 
more effectually than Homer had done ; it weighed on 
instead of lightening his spirits, and had to be ultimately 
renounced. But it brought incidentally the advantage 
of making him acquainted with Hayley, who, happening 
to be then engaged on a Life of Milton, and reading in 
the newspapers a paragraph which described himself 
and Cowper as rivals in the Miltonic field, wrote to the 
poet a generous letter full of admiration for his genius, 
and disclaiming all intentions of doing anything that 
would clash with the projected edition of Milton's works. 
Cowper answered in the same spirit, and the two poets 
became warm friends. 

For a poet Hayley was in his time, though his poetry 
has long passed into oblivion. Indeed, the literary 
critics of the day, some of whom had poured contempt 
on Cowper's first volume, hailed the first public appear- 
ance of Hayley as that of a new and bright star on the 
poetical horizon. They perceived in him an almost 



Ix MEMOIR 

unrivalled excellence, an imagination truly creative, and 
a judgment critically exact. The inimitable pen of this 
masterly writer, we are informed, drew animated por- 
traits with admirable truth and precision. He com- 
bined the fire and invention of Dryden with the wit 
and ease of Prior, and if his versification was a shade 
less polished than that of Pope, it was very much more 
various. Meretricious ornaments he studiously eschewed, 
and though his ideas were conceived in the finest vein 
of poetical frenzy, they were expressed with the most 
elegant perspicuity and the chastest simplicity. To 
crown all, he believed in revealed religion. This was 
enough. The bard was swept up to the seventh poetical 
heaven in a halo of glory and a whirlwind of praise. The 
public, stimulated by the blast of the critical trumpet, pur- 
chased his works with a perseverance worthy of a better 
cause. They were distributed as prizes, they were bestowed 
as presents ; the perusal of them reformed the character 
of intractable young ladies, and kindled a flame in the 
bosom of nursery-gardeners, who refused to accept 
payment for their wares from the great man when they 
discovered his identity. The surly Thurlow complimented 
him. Pitt offered him the laureateship. In short, he 
stood for a time on the lofty pedestal which had been 
lately vacated by the imperishable Pye, and was after- 
wards adorned by the immortal Tupper. But it could 
not last. The time came to knock him down and put 
up another in his place. The thing was soon done. The 
brazen trumpet again rang out : the public gaped at the 
last new idol ; and poor Hayley was forgotten. 

But if he was an indifferent poet, Hayley was an 
affectionate friend, as free as Cowper himself from those 
mean passions of envy and jealousy which in the opinion 
of a censorious world are peculiarly apt to wring the 



MEMOIR Ixi 

breasts of authors. He used all his influence with 
Thurlow to extract from him a pension for Cowper. 
He artfully presented the chancellor's bastard daughter 
with a copy of Cowper's poems ; he breakfasted 
with the great man himself, and exerted his utmost 
powers of personal fascination, which were considerable, 
but it was all to no purpose ; for though, being a man of 
sanguine temperament, he left the breakfast table in high 
feather under the impression that he had softened the 
nether millstone of Thurlow's heart, nothing but dis- 
appointment came of the interview. 

However, Hayley did much better for Cowper than 
get him a pension. He visited him at Weston in May 
1792, and by his amiable manners, his buoyant, lively 
disposition, and agreeable conversation he won the 
hearts and cheered the lives of the two recluses. On 
his side Hayley was no less charmed with them. Writ- 
ing from Weston to his friend the painter Romney, 
he says : " Often have I wished to convey you by magic 
to my side, when you were not near me ; but I be- 
lieve I never wished it more ardently than I have 
done under this very kind poetical roof. You would be 
pleased here, as I am, and think with me, that my 
brother bard is one of the most interesting creatures in 
the world, from the powerful united influence of rare 
genius and singular misfortunes, with the additional 
charm of mild and engaging manners. Then as to the 
grand article of females, (for what is a scene without a 
woman in it ?) here is a muse of seventy, that I perfectly 
idolize. Here is a wonderful scene ; it would affect you, 
I know, as it does me. Few things in life have given me 
such heartfelt satisfaction as my visit to this house ; and 
the more so as my kind hosts seem to regard me as sent 
to them by Providence, for our general delight and 



Ixii MEMOIR 

advantage." 1 And in the biographical notices which he 
interspersed in his posthumous edition of Cowper's letters 
he thus writes of his first visit to Weston : " My host, 
though now in his sixty-first year, appeared as happily 
exempt from all the infirmities of advanced life, as 
friendship could wish nim to be ; and his more elderly 
companion, not materially oppressed by age, discovered 
a benevolent alertness of character that seemed to pro- 
mise a continuance of their domestic comfort. Their 
reception of me was kindness itself: I was enchanted 
to find that the manners and conversation of Cowper 
resembled his poetry, charming by unaffected elegance, 
and the graces of a benevolent spirit. I looked with 
affectionate veneration and pleasure on the lady, who 
having devoted her life and fortune to the service of 
this tender and sublime genius, in watching over him 
with maternal vigilance through many years of the 
darkest calamity, appeared to be now enjoying a reward 
justly due to the noblest exertions of friendship, in con- 
templating the health and the renown of the poet whom 
she had the happiness to preserve. It seemed hardly 
possible to survey human nature in a more touching and 
a more satisfactory point of view. Their tender attention 
to each other, their simple devout gratitude for the 
mercies which they had experienced together, and their 
constant, but unaffected, propensity to impress on the 
mind and heart of a new friend, the deep sense, which 
they incessantly felt, of their mutual obligations to each 
other, afforded me very singular gratification." 

The mutual happiness of the friends in each other's 
society was sadly dashed by Mrs. Unwin's second stroke 

1 Hayley somewhat exaggerates Mrs. Unwin's age. Having 
been born in 1724 she was then (1792) about sixty-eight. 
Cowper, born in 1731, was about seven years younger. 



MEMOIR Ixiii 

of paralysis, which befel her one afternoon when Cowper 
and Hayley, after a morning passed in study, were out 
walking together. The melancholy news was communi- 
cated to them on their return by Mr. Samuel Greatheed, 
a dissenting minister of Newport Pagnell, who happened 
to be calling at the Lodge. Hayley was able to soothe his 
friend's agitation, and his tender attentions to the invalid 
endeared him still more to the poet. After spending 
more than a fortnight with his friends at Weston, he left 
them on the first of June, stealing quietly out of the house 
in the morning lest he should wake Mrs. Unwin, and 
leaving a pencilled note for Cowper in a song-book. 

But before he departed it had been arranged between 
them that if Mrs. Unwin's health permitted it, she and 
Cowper should pay him a visit in the course of the 
summer at his home in Sussex. Hayley then resided at 
Eartham, a small estate delightfully situated on high 
ground about six miles from Chichester and five from 
Arundel. He had inherited the property from his father, 
and had enlarged the house and embellished the garden. 
The pleasure - grounds, interspersed with rural grottoes 
and ivied seats, occupied three sides of a hill crowned 
with an arbour. House and grounds commanded beauti- 
ful views over a deep fertile valley enclosed by wooded 
hills, and away to the sea, nine miles distant, and the 
Isle of Wight looking like a thick cloud on the horizon. 
Gibbon, who visited Hayley at Eartham, and whose 
portrait hung in the library, called the place a little 
Paradise. 

As the summer wore on, Mrs. Unwin's health gradually 
improved, and in spite of many fears and misgivings on 
Cowper's part, it was finally decided that they should go 
together to Eartham at the beginning of August. It was 
a tremendous undertaking for two people who had lived 



i 

Ixiv MEMOIR 

so quiet and secluded a life, and had never been more 
than a few miles distant from home for many years. 
A coach and four was sent from London to convey 
them. Johnny of Norfolk, Cowper's man-servant Samuel 
Roberts, his wife, and the little dog Beau, went with 
them. At eight o'clock in the morning of the first of 
August 1792 the coach drew up at the door of the Lodge 
Samuel mounted the box, the rest got in, and they all 
drove off in good spirits. The journey occupied three 
days : the weather was very hot and the roads dusty. 
They lodged the first night at the Mitre in Barnet, 
where they found their friend Mr. Rose, who had 
walked thither from his house in Chancery Lane to 
meet them. His presence and conversation afforded a 
welcome relief to the weary and jaded spirits of the two 
unaccustomed travellers after their long confinement and 
jolting in the coach. Unfortunately the inn was very 
noisy, and Cowper was driven almost to despair for Mrs. 
Unwin, lest she should get no rest. But though she 
was so weary that she could hardly speak she slept well 
and rose refreshed. On the second day they dined at 
Kingston, where Cowper met his old friend, General 
Cowper, whom he had not seen for thirty years, and at 
night they lodged at Ripley, six miles from Guildford, 
in a quiet inn which they had all to themselves. There 
they both slept well and in the morning felt quite 
rested. Next day brought them to Eartham about ten 
o'clock at night. Darkness had fallen and the moon 
had risen when they crossed the Sussex downs, and 
Cowper, who had never seen a hill in his life, con- 
fesses that he was daunted by their " tremendous 
height " looming dim above him in the moonlight. Mrs. 
Unwin bore the journey better than Cowper dared to 
hope, and after the undisturbed slumbers of two good 



MEMOIR Ixv 

nights at Eartham she was more cheerful than she had 
been for many months. 

In Hayley's hospitable home the two friends spent six 
happy weeks. The weather was at first fine, and in the 
brisker air and on the drier chalk soil Mrs. Unwin could, 
with support, walk better than at Weston. Sometimes 
she would pace the gravel walks of the hanging gardens ; 
sometimes she would be drawn in a chaise by Hayley's 
son, Tom, and a servant lad, while Cowper or Johnny of 
Norfolk pushed behind ; sometimes she would sit with 
Cowper in the bower on the top of the hill, tranquilly en- 
joying the distant prospects and the air blowing sweet and 
fresh. But she could not amuse herself by knitting or 
reading, for her sight remained imperfect and her fingers 
refused to perform their office. Cowper himself slept 
much better than at home and his appetite was im- 
proved ; Johnny of Norfolk thought him looking ten 
times younger than he had ever seen him before ; he 
laughed from morning to night and was quite blooming 
and active. But surrounded by strange objects he found 
his attention so dissipated that he could hardly even 
write a letter ; and he confessed himself so unaccount- 
ably local in the use of his pen that, like the man in the 
fable who could leap nowhere but at Rhodes, he was in- 
capable of writing anywhere but at Weston. 

However, he found plenty of occupation. The morning 
hours which could be spared for books were chiefly devoted 
to revising and correcting, with Hayley's help, all the trans- 
lations which he had made of Milton's Latin and Italian 
poems for the projected edition of his works ; and after 
dinner the friends generally amused themselves with 
composing jointly a rapid metrical version of Andreini's 
Adamo, an Italian drama published at Milan in 1613, 
which Hayley, following a hint of Voltaire's, supposed to 

e 



Ixvi MEMOIR 

have influenced Milton's choice of the subject for his 
great epic. Cowper, too, gave some time to sitting for 
his likeness to the painter Romney, who was among the 
guests at Eartham. The portrait, drawn in crayons, was 
esteemed by his friends very like. It is perhaps the best 
known of the three portraits of the poet. Shortly before 
his departure for Eartham he had been painted by Abbot, 
and in the following year he was painted by Lawrence. 

Among the guests at Eartham during Cowper's stay 
was Mrs. Charlotte Smith, who was then engaged in 
writing her best novel The Old Manor House. The 
early part of the day she devoted to composition in her 
own room, and in the evening she read to the assembled 
party what she had written, charming her hearers by 
the simplicity and grace of her elocution and delivery. 
Cowper repeatedly declared that among his early as- 
sociates, some of whom prided themselves on rapid com- 
position, he knew of none who could have composed so 
rapidly and well. Another visitor who came to Eartham 
to meet Cowper was his correspondent the Rev. James 
Hurdis, rector of Bishopsgate in Sussex. Deeply affected 
by the death of his sister he had resigned his living 
and was about to settle at Oxford, where he afterwards 
became Professor of Poetry. He and Cowper met at 
Eartham for the first and only time. Nor among the 
friends gathered at Hayley's pleasant home should 
Cowper's little dog, Beau, be forgotten. He had ridden 
in the coach with his master from Weston, and when 
Hayley, his son Tom, and the painter, Romney, set off to 
the sea to bathe, Beau went with them. Whether he en- 
joyed battling with the salt waves on the beach as much as 
swimming in the sluggish waters of the Ouse and gather- 
ing water-lilies on its calm bosom, is not recorded by 
history. 



MEMOIR Ixvii 

A greater contrast can hardly be conceived than that 
which was presented by these peaceful scenes at Eartham, 
and the scenes of tumult and horror which were then 
being enacted at Paris, whither Cowper's friends the 
Throckmortons had gone on a visit. For Paris was then 
at the height of the revolutionary frenzy. While the poet 
worked at his books with Hayley in the quiet library with 
its windows looking away over the beautiful landscape, 
or accompanied Mrs. Unwin in her walks in the garden, 
or sat with her in the arbour, fanned by the fresh breezes 
from the distant sea, the palace of the Tuileries was 
being stormed, the Swiss Guard cut to pieces, the King 
and Queen made captive, and the dreadful September 
massacres were being perpetrated at the prisons. It was 
with a great sense of relief that Cowper learned that Sir 
John and Lady Throckmorton had quitted Paris two days 
before the terrible tenth of August. 

So in happy social intercourse, literary occupation, 
and enjoyment of nature the weeks at Eartham glided 
pleasantly away. But the days were shortening, the 
autumn was advancing, the weather after the first fort- 
night had turned wet and stormy, and Cowper began to 
long to be at home again. The beautiful scenery and 
manifold charms of Eartham, he assures his correspond- 
ents, had not alienated his affections from the peaceful, 
though less splendid, Weston ; the prospects which met 
his eye from every window, of woods like forests and hills 
like mountains, rather deepened than alleviated his natural 
melancholy, and he preferred the snug concealment of the 
Buckinghamshire village, which to him was the dearest 
spot on earth. So on the seventeenth of September the 
two friends set out for home. With a heavy heart Cowper 
took leave of Hayley, with a heavy heart he bade farewell 
to Tom at the foot of the chalk hill ; but soon after his 



Ixviii MEMOIR 

troubles gushed from his eyes, and then he was better. 
They spent four days on the return journey, for it had 
been agreed that they should dine one day with the 
poet's kinsman, General Cowper, and for that purpose it 
was necessary that they should pass a night at Kingston, 
near which the Generctl lived. Cowper looked forward to 
the visit with great trepidation of spirits ; but it passed 
off well, the two old friends parted, never to meet again, 
and Cowper and Mrs. Unwin returned more cheerfully 
in the dark to Kingston. That night they rested well, 
and next morning soon after eight set off for London, 
which Cowper was to look upon also for the last time. 
At ten in the morning they arrived at Mr. Rose's door in 
Chancery Lane, drank chocolate with him, and proceeded 
on their journey, Mr. Rose riding with them as far as 
St. Albans. From there they met with no impediment ; 
in the dark and in a storm they reached their own back 
door at eight o'clock at night. 

Soon after their return Cowper attempted to settle 
down to his task work at Milton, but it was to little 
purpose. The stream of his genius refused to flow in 
a prescribed channel ; his Pegasus would not gallop 
under a bit and snaffle. In vain did he set his teeth and 
sit down to his desk with a good pen, a full ink-bottle, 
and a clean sheet of paper spread out before him ; after 
writing and blotting a few lines he had to relinquish the 
attempt. The ghost of Milton seemed to haunt him and 
to goad him with continual reproaches for his neglect. 
He turned from the ungrateful task and buried himself in 
a revision of his Homer, which was for him a labour of 
love to be performed of his own free will and at his own 
time, not a matter of contract to be executed to date for 
a bookseller. In order that he might give the whole 
of the day to waiting on Mrs. Unwin, who in the en- 



MEMOIR Ixix 

feebled state of her body and mind needed and exacted 
all his attention, he used to rise at six and fag at Homer, 
fasting till eleven o'clock, when he breakfasted. In 
winter he was up before daybreak while the owls 
were still hooting, and he sat by the window to catch 
the first glimmer of daylight, sometimes so cold that 
the pen slipped from his benumbed fingers. When the 
weather was fair, he regularly walked with Mrs. Unwin 
in the orchard at the back of the house, where he 
had made a new path sheltered from the north and facing 
the south-western sun. But Mrs. Unwin was now so 
crippled that on these walks she had always to be sup- 
ported between two and could only creep. In the evening 
he read to her his revised translation of Homer or some 
other book, such as Baker's Chronicle, in which he hoped 
in time to be as well versed as Sir Roger de Coverley, 
who used to keep the book lying on his hall window and 
occasionally unbend his mind, after the serious business 
of hunting foxes or sentencing poachers, by perusing the 
annals of his country. 

The reason which induced Cowper to revise his Homer 
was one, he said, which any poet may guess if he will 
only thrust his hand into his pocket. At the same time, 
in deference to criticisms which had been passed on his 
translation, he attempted to adapt it to the over-delicate 
taste of the day by rendering the Latinisms into plain 
English, by expunging the occasional inversions which 
had given dignity to the verse, and by planing down the 
rougher lines, which the poet himself had deemed in- 
dispensable to secure variety of cadence. When all these 
changes had been made, he hoped to give to far the 
greater number of his verses a flow as smooth as oil, to 
convert the Iliad and Odyssey into plain turnpike, along 
which the most fastidious or squeamish reader might 



Ixx MEMOIR 

glide without experiencing a single jolt to distract his 
attention or disturb his slumber. Of this excessive 
smoothness of versification Cowper himself decidedly 
disapproved. "A critic of the present day," he says, 
" serves a poem as a cook serves a dead turkey, when she 
fastens the legs of it to a post, and draws out all the 
sinews. For this we may thank Pope ; but unless we 
could imitate him in the closeness and compactness of 
his expression, as well as in the smoothness of his 
numbers, we had better drop the imitation, which serves 
no other purpose than to emasculate and weaken all we 
write. Give me a manly, rough line, with a deal of 
meaning in it, rather than a whole poem full of musical 
periods, that have nothing but their oily smoothness to 
recommend them ! " 

But while in his Homer, as in all his original poems, 
Cowper took the utmost pains to satisfy his own fine 
sense of literary workmanship, and to meet all reason- 
able and even some unreasonable demands of criticism, 
he never replied to any of his critics in print. Like 
another wise and magnanimous man, the target of many 
envenomed shafts David Hume he disdained to engage 
in the squabbling and scuffling, the clouting of heads and 
the clawing of faces, which goes by the name of literary 
controversy. 1 With a sensitiveness and delicacy of nature 
more than feminine, he happily combined a robust and 
manly strain of thought which made him rise superior to 
petty wounds that would have rankled in weaker natures. 

1 ' ' Answers by Reverends and Right Reverends came out two 
or three in a year ; and I found, by Dr. Warburton's railing, that 
the books were beginning to be esteemed in good company. 
However, I had a fixed resolution, which I inflexibly maintained, 
never to reply to any body ; and not being very irascible in my 
temper, I have easily kept myself clear of all literary squabbles." 
DAVID HUME, My Own Life. 



MEMOIR Ixxi 

His equanimity was never ruffled, or at all events never 
seriously disturbed, by the attacks of critics. He could 
afford to disregard them and to bide his time. His works 
will last with the English language : their criticisms have 
long been forgotten. 

Cowper had other and deeper than pecuniary motives 
for applying himself zealously to Homer. The occupation 
served to divert his mind for a time from sad sights and 
melancholy reflections. His spirits were low and as time 
went on they sank lower and lower. Even shortly after 
his return from Eartham he wrote to Hayley in a tone of 
despondence that all his sprightly chords seemed broken ; 
he thought that perhaps the approach of winter was the 
cause, but alas ! spring and summer were to bring few 
joys to him again. No doubt a principal source of his 
unhappiness was the spectacle, always before his eyes, of 
Mrs. Unwin's steady decline. Her eyes and her fingers 
never recovered the powers they had lost by the second 
stroke of palsy. She never knitted again. The knitting- 
needles, once so shining, now rusted unused. She who 
had been wont to rise by candle-light because the day- 
light was not long enough for the important business of 
mending stockings and other housewifely cares, now sat 
in her corner silent, with idle hands, gazing at the fire. 
For a while Cowper cheated, or tried to cheat himself, 
with the hope that she would still recover what she had 
lost, that she would yet read and work again as of old. 
But at last he saw that the hope was vain, and wrote the 
pathetic verses, To Mary, which will embalm her memory 
and his so long as the English language endures. They 
are believed to be the last original poem which he 
composed at Weston. 

It would have been well for her and for him if mere 
bodily weakness had been the worst that befel Mrs. 



Ixxii MEMOIR 

Unwin in the evening of her days ; but unhappily with 
the decay of her faculties her character underwent a great 
change, and she who for years had found all her happiness 
in ministering to her afflicted friend, and seemed to have 
no thought but for his welfare, now became querulous 
and exacting, forgetful of him and mindful apparently 
only of herself. Unable to move out of her chair without 
help, or to walk across the room unless supported by two 
people, her speech at times almost unintelligible, she 
deprived him of all his wonted exercises, both bodily and 
mental, as she did not choose that he should leave her 
for a moment, or ever use a pen or a book except when 
he read to her. To these demands he responded with 
all the devotion of gratitude and affection ; he was 
assiduous in his attentions to her, but the strain told 
heavily on his strength. 

It is no wonder that in these melancholy circumstances 
the oppression of spirits under which he had laboured for 
so many years should grow ever heavier. In one of his 
letters he mentions that he suffered from a dejection such 
as he had never known since he commenced author, 
except when he was absolutely laid by. In another he 
speaks of rising in the morning " like an infernal frog out 
of Acheron, covered with the ooze and mud of melan- 
choly" ; in another, he says that he seems to himself to 
be scrambling always in the dark, among rocks and 
precipices, without a guide, but with an enemy ever at 
his heels, ready to push him headlong. Above all, his 
religious delusion rose to a pitch of horror which 
threatened to overcast his whole mental horizon, and to 
extinguish the last glimmerings of reason and hope. He 
was haunted with forebodings of some overwhelming 
evil : his imagination was terrified by an endless train of 
horrible phantoms : he suffered agonies of despair. His 



MEMOIR Ixxiii 

dreams were frightful. One night, for instance, he seemed 
to be taking a final leave of his dwelling and of every 
thing with which he had been most familiar, on the 
evening before his execution. He felt the tenderest 
regret at the separation, and looked about for something 
durable to carry with him as a memorial. The iron hasp 
of the garden door presenting itself, he was on the point 
of taking that ; but recollecting that the heat of the fire 
in which he was going to be tormented would fuse the 
metal, and that it would therefore only serve to increase 
his insupportable misery, he left it, and awoke in all the 
horror with which the reality of the visionary terrors could 
have filled him. With such extremities of torture could 
a gloomy religious creed rack the mind of one of the best 
and most innocent men who ever dignified and beautified 
our earth by their presence. 

No doubt the mental decay of Mrs. Unwin was one of 
the causes which contributed most powerfully to plunge 
Cowper into this abysm of misery. It was not merely 
that he was doomed daily and hourly to witness sufferings 
which wrung his heart and which he was powerless to 
relieve, but that he no longer received from her those 
pious consolations which her milder faith and her old 
unshaken trust in the divine goodness had enabled her to 
minister to him in his darkest hours. Thus deprived of 
spiritual guidance at home, he looked for it abroad, and 
unhappily he found it in Samuel Teedon, the pious, 
ignorant, foolish, self-sufficient schoolmaster of Olney, 
whose clumsy compliments, clownish manners, dull con- 
versation, and ridiculous accounts of his petty ailments 
Cowper in his happier days had not failed to make the 
theme of delicate banter. This awkward booby, this 
presumptuous ass, whose piety, if it was sincere, was 
perhaps not wholly disinterested, since he received 



Ixxiv MEMOIR 

through Cowper's agency a regular allowance in money, 
which he liberally repaid in prayer, was now consulted by 
the poet and Mrs. Unwin as a sort of divine oracle. 
When Cowper had had a particularly bad dream, or on 
waking in the morning imagined he heard voices speaking 
to him, he enquired of the Lord by the mouth of Samuel 
Teedon as to what these things might mean, and in due 
time received gracious and reassuring answers. When 
he hesitated about going on with the edition of Milton, 
which failed so miserably, the case was laid before the 
schoolmaster, who, after spreading it out as usual on the 
mercy-seat, announced that the Lord encouraged him to 
proceed "by shining on his addresses, and quickening 
him by his word." The letters which Cowper wrote to 
this poor driveller are melancholy witnesses to the wreck 
of a fine intellect ; and in reading them we cannot but 
wish that when he sought the Lord at the schoolhouse of 
Olney, a voice had answered him as Colonel White 
answered Barebones's Parliament when they told him that 
they were seeking the Lord : " Then you may go else- 
where, for to my certain knowledge, He has not been here 
these many years." 

So things went from bad to worse at Weston. To add 
to all their other troubles pecuniary anxieties were 
creeping in on them. Neither of the two friends was now 
able to take charge of their domestic affairs, and though 
Mrs. Unwin persisted in keeping the purse-strings in her 
poor feeble hands, there was no proper check on the 
household expenditure. Unworthy objects of their bounty 
took advantage of their weakness. All went to wrack 
and ruin. 

Yet some temporary alleviation of their sorrows was 
afforded ; a last gleam of sunset light shone on the sad 
Household at Weston, with the visit of friends in the 



MEMOIR Ixxv 

autumn of 1793. Mr. Rose arrived early in October, 
bringing with him the painter, Lawrence, to whom 
Cowper sat for his portrait. Mr. Rose had been com- 
missioned by Lord Spencer to invite Cowper and his 
guests to his seat of Althorpe in Northamptonshire, where 
the historian, Gibbon, was about to pay a long visit. The 
invitation was attractive, and all Cowper's guests urged 
him to go ; but the constitutional shyness of the poet 
conspired with the infirm state of Mrs. Unwin's health to 
prevent him from meeting his famous contemporary. He 
sent a polite refusal through Mr. Rose. A few days after 
Mr. Rose's arrival, Johnny of Norfolk, now the Reverend 
John Johnson, joined the party at Weston, and early in 
November Hayley came on his second visit. He found 
Cowper apparently well and enlivened by the society of 
his two favourite friends, Johnson and Rose. The poet 
still possessed completely all the admirable faculties of his 
mind and all the native tenderness of his heart ; yet there 
was something indescribable in his appearance which 
alarmed Hayley with apprehensions of coming evil. 
During his visit the two authors kept each other busy, 
Cowper revising Hayley's Life of Milton, and Hayley 
doing the same for his friend's Homer, while Mrs. Unwin 
sat in her corner by the fire, sometimes silent, listening to 
the patter of the rain on the windows, sometimes laughing 
at the two friends, or interrupting them with a question 
or a remark, sometimes, when no heed was paid to her, 
holding a conversation with herself. 

When Hayley had gone after a fortnight's visit, Lady 
Hesketh arrived about the middle of November. Know- 
ing the terrible change which had taken place in Mrs. 
Unwin, and how severely it must have affected Cowper, 
she found him better than she expected. But the blow 
which the watchful Hayley had apprehended fell on the 



Ixxvi MEMOIR 

poet in the second week of January 1794 and broke him 
finally. His spirits wholly deserted him. He ceased to 
work and to correspond with his friends. For six days 
he sat " still and silent as death," and took no other food 
during that time than a morsel of bread dipped in wine 
and water. When every other remedy had failed, the 
medical attendant suggested that, as the only remaining 
chance, Mrs. Unwin should invite him to go out with her? 
She was induced, not without the exercise of tact and 
management, to make the experiment, and observing that 
it was a fine morning, said she should like to try to walk. 
Cowper at once rose, took her by the arm, and the spell 
which had bound him to his chair was broken. 

Yet though he lived, no improvement took place in his 
mental condition. The arrival of Hayley in the spring, who 
came at much personal inconvenience to attend to his un- 
happy friend, seemed to give no pleasure to the sufferer ; 
he testified not the least glimmering of satisfaction at the 
appearance of a guest whom he used to receive with the 
most lively expressions of affectionate delight. During 
Hayley's stay a letter came from Lord Spencer announc- 
ing that it was His Majesty's intention to grant Cowper a 
pension of three hundred pounds a year for the residue of 
his life. But the news came too late to bring him the 
smallest comfort. 1 As time went on, in spite of the unre- 
mitting attentions of Lady Hesketh, who stayed at Weston 
and devoted herself to the care of the two suffering friends, 
Cowper grew rather worse than better. He hardly ate, 
he was worn to a shadow, he did nothing but pace 
incessantly up and down in his study or his bedroom ; he 
lived in a constant state of terror dreadful to behold, 

1 The official document recording the grant is now exhibited in 
Cowper's house at Olney. It is signed by George the Third and 
Pitt. The pension was to date from July 5, 1794. 



MEMOIR Ixxvii 

expecting daily and even hourly to be carried off by the 
Devil. This lasted for about eighteen months from the 
spring of 1794 till the latter end of July 1795. Then the 
Rev. John Johnson came to Weston from Norfolk, and 
with affectionate solicitude and tact persuaded the two 
invalids to accompany him on a visit to Norfolk, in the 
hope that a complete change of scene might be beneficial 
to both. Cowper was reluctant to leave the beautiful and 
peaceful Weston, to which, in spite of all he had suffered 
there, his heart clung with constant affection. He had a 
presentiment, which proved true, that he should see it no 
more ; and on a panel of the window shutter in his 
bedroom the bedroom overlooking the quiet garden 
where he had so often walked with Mrs. Unwin he wrote 
in pencil the sad lines : 

" Farewell, dear scenes, for ever closed to me ; 
Oh, for what sorrows must I now exchange ye ! " * 

From Weston the party drove through Bedford with- 
out stopping, and spent the first night of the journey at 
the quiet little country town of St. Neot's. There in the 
moonlight Cowper walked up and down with his kinsman 
in the churchyard, conversing composedly and almost 
cheerfully on the subject of Thomson's Seasons ; and 
there, with the moonlight sleeping on its calm water, he 
saw for the last time his beloved Ouse. 

In August, thinking that the invalids might benefit by 
sea air, Mr. Johnson took them to the village of Mundsley 
on the Norfolk coast. The cliffs there are high, the sands 
firm and level, and pacing on them the poet, if he could 
not recover his lost peace of mind, seemed to be soothed 

1 The panel has been removed from the house at Weston and 
is now exhibited at the poet's house at Olney. The inscription is 
blurred but still legible. 



Ixxviii MEMOIR 

by the monotonous sound of the breakers. But his heart 
went back to Weston, and in the few letters written by 
him from Mundsley, he speaks of the dear village with 
fond regret. After various changes of abode the invalids 
finally settled with Mr. Johnson at his house in East Dere- 
ham. There, a few months after their settlement, Mrs. 
Unwin died on the seventeenth of September 1796, in her 
seventy-second year. Cowper was too sunk in melancholy 
even to take notice of her last illness ; yet he must have 
been aware of it, for on the morning of her death, when 
the servant opened his window, he asked her, " Sally, is 
there life above stairs?" He went to her bedside as 
usual after breakfast that morning, then he returned to 
the room below and requested Mr. Johnson to read to 
him Miss Burney's novel Camilla. The reading was soon 
interrupted, and Mr. Johnson was beckoned out of the 
room to learn that all was over. The news affected 
Cowper so little, that after hearing it he allowed his 
kinsman to resume the reading of the novel. But when 
they led him into the chamber of death, and he saw her 
lying on the bed, for ever still, he gave way to a burst of 
emotion. Then he quitted the room and never spoke of 
her again. They buried her in Dereham churchyard at 
night by torchlight, lest the sight and sounds of the last 
sad procession should agitate him unduly. 

He lingered for a few years more, always plunged in the 
deepest, the most hopeless melancholy. Yet he allowed 
them to read to him, and he listened to his own poems 
in silence ; only he forbade them to read to him John 
Gilpin. He was even induced to resume his long inter- 
rupted revision of Homer, and he seemed calmer while 
he was engaged in the old familiar task ; his very breath- 
ing was observed to be longer and easier while he sat with 
bowed head over his desk. Having once begun, he 



MEMOIR Ixxix 

worked steadily, and completed the revision on the eighth 
of March 1799. A few days later he wrote his last original 
poem, The Castaway, founded on an incident in Anson's 
Voyages which he had read long before. His work was 
now done, and the hour of rest was not far off. At the 
end of January 1800, symptoms of dropsy appeared in his 
feet and ankles, and gradually increased. By the end of 
February he ceased to come down stairs ; by the end 
of March he was confined to his bedroom. When a 
doctor asked him how he felt, he answered, " I feel 
unutterable despair." The night before he died, being 
very weak, they offered him a cordial, but he rejected 
it, saying, " What can it signify ? '' They were his last 
words. Next morning, Friday, the twenty-fifth day of 
April, 1800, there was death on his face, but he survived 
till five o'clock in the afternoon, when his long suffer- 
ings and sorrows quietly ceased. All that is mortal 
of him rests in Dereham church, not far from the dust 
of Mary Unwin. Over his grave Lady Hesketh caused 
a monument to be erected, and Hayley composed for it 
a copy of verses containing a tribute to his departed 
friend, a tribute which all who know and love Cowper 
will acknowledge to be just : 

" Ye, who with warmth the public triumph feel 
Of talents dignified by sacred zeal, 
Here, to devotion's bard devoutly just, 
Pay your fond tribute due to Cowper' s dust ! 
England, exulting in his spotless fame, 
Ranks with her dearest sons his favourite name. 
Sense, fancy, wit, suffice not all to raise 
So clear a title to affection's praise : 
His highest honours to the heart belong ; 
His virtues form' d the magic of his song." 



LETTERS OF 

WILLIAM COWPER 

LETTERS FROM LONDON 
17621763 



To Clotworthy Rowley ; Esq., at Tendring Hall, 

near Ipswich. 
DEAR ROWLEY, 

Your letter has taken me just in the crisis ; to- 
morrow I set off for Brighthelmston, 1 and there I stay 
till the winter brings us all to town again. This world 
is a shabby fellow, and uses us ill ; but a few years 
hence there will be no difference between us and our 
fathers of the tenth generation upwards. I could be 
as splenetick as you, and with more reason, if I thought 
proper to indulge that humour ; but my resolution is, 
(and I would advise you to adopt it,) never to be 
melancholy while I have a hundred pounds in the 
world to keep up my spirits. God knows how long 
that will be ; but in the mean time lo Triumphs! If 

1 Brighton. 
VOL. I \ B 



2 LETTERS FROM LONDON [1762 

a great man struggling with misfortunes is a noble 
object, a little man that despises them is no contempt- 
ible one ; and this is all the philosophy I have in the 
world at present. It savours pretty much of the ancient 
Stoic ; but till the Stoics became coxcombs, they were, 
in my opinion, a very sensible sect. 

If my resolution to be a great man was half so 
strong as it is to despise the shame of being a little 
one, I should not despair of a house in Lincoln's Inn 
Fields, with all its appurtenances ; for there is nothing 
more certain, and I could prove it by a thousand 
instances, than that every man may be rich if he will. 
What is the industry of half the industrious men in the 
world but avarice, and call it by which name you will, 
it almost always succeeds. But this provokes me, that 
a covetous dog who will work by candlelight in a 
morning, to get what he does not want, shall be praised 
for his thriftiness, while a gentleman shall be abused 
for submitting to his wants, rather than work like an 
ass to relieve them. Did you ever in your life know 
a man who was guided in the general course of his 
actions by any thing but his natural temper ? And 
yet we blame each other's conduct as freely as if that 
temper was the most tractable beast in the world, and 
we had nothing to do but to twitch the rein to the 
right or the left, and go just as we are directed by 
others ! All this is nonsense, and nothing better. 

There are some sensible folks, who having great 
estates have wisdom enough too to spend them pro- 
perly ; there are others who are not less wise, perhaps, 



1762] TO CLOTWORTHY KOWLEY, ESQ. 3 

as knowing how to shift without 'em. Between these 
two degrees are they who spend their money dirtily, 
or get it so. If you ask me where they are to be 
placed who amass much wealth in an honest way, you 
must be so good as to find them first, and then I'll 
answer the question. Upon the whole, my dear Row- 
ley, there is a degree of poverty that has no disgrace 
belonging to it ; that degree of it, I mean, in which a 
man enjoys clean linen and good company ; and if I 
never sink below this degree of it, I care not if I never 
rise above it. This is a strange epistle, nor can I 
imagine how the devil I came to write it : but here it 
is, such as it is, and much good may you do with it. 
I have no estate, as it happens, so if it should fall into 
bad hands, I shall be in no danger of a commission of 
lunacy. Adieu ! Carr is well, and gives his love to 

you. Yours ever, 

WM. COWPER. 

Sept. 2, 1762. 

II 

To Lady Hesketh. 

THE TEMPLE, Aug. q, 1763. 
MY DEAR COUSIN, 

Having promised to write to you, I make haste 
to be as good as my word. I have a pleasure in writing 
to you at any time, but especially at the present, when 
my days are spent in reading the Journals, 1 and my 
nights in dreaming of them. An employment not very 

1 Of the House of Lords, of which at this time Cowper had a 
prospect of being appointed clerk. 



4 LETTERS FROM LONDON [1763 

agreeable to a head that has long been habituated to 
the luxury of choosing its subject, and has been as 
little employed upon business, as if it had grown upon 
the shoulders of a much wealthier gentleman. But the 
numskull pays for it now, and will not presently forget 
the discipline it has undergone lately. If I succeed in 
this doubtful piece of promotion, I shall have at least 
this satisfaction to reflect upon, that the volumes I 
write will be treasured up with the utmost care for 
ages, and will last as long as the English constitution, 
a duration which ought to satisfy the vanity of any 
author who has a spark of love for his country. O ! 
my good cousin ! if I was to open my heart to you, I 
could show you strange sights ; nothing, I flatter my- 
self, that would shock you, but a great deal that would 
make you wonder. I am of a very singular temper, 
and very unlike all the men that I have ever con- 
versed with. Certainly I am not an absolute fool ; 
but I have more weakness than the greatest of all the 
fools I can recollect at present. In short, if I was as 
fit for the next world, as I am unfit for this, and God 
forbid I should speak it in vanity ! I would not change 
conditions with any saint in Christendom. 

My destination is settled at last, and I have obtained 
a furlough. Margate is the word, and what do you 
think will ensue, cousin ? I know what you expect, 
but ever since I was born I have been good at disap- 
pointing the most natural expectations. Many years 
ago, cousin, there was a possibility I might prove a 
very different thing from what I am at present. My 



1763] TO LADY HESKETH 5 

character is now fixed, and riveted fast upon me; 
and, between friends, it is not a very splendid one, or 
likely to be guilty of much fascination. 

Adieu, my dear cousin ! So much as I love you, I 
wonder how the deuce it has happened I was never in 
love with you. Thank Heaven that I never was, for 
at this time I have had a pleasure in writing to you, 
which in that case I should have forfeited. Let me 
hear from you, or I shall reap but half the reward 
that is due to my noble indifference. Yours ever, 

and evermore, 

W. C. 



LETTERS FROM HUNTINGDON 

1765-1767 

III 

To Joseph Hill, Esq., Cook's Court, Carey 
Street, London. 

HUNTINGDON, June 24, 1765. 
DEAR JOE, 

The only recompense I can make you for your 
kind attention to my affairs during my illness, is to 
tell you, that by the mercy of God I am restored to 
perfect health both of mind and body. This I believe 
will give you pleasure ; and I would gladly do any 
thing from which you could receive it. 

I left St. Alban's on the seventeenth, and arrived 
that day at Cambridge, spent some time there with 
my brother, and came hither on the twenty-second. 
I have a lodging that puts me continually in mind of 
our summer excursions ; we have had many worse, 
and except the size of it, (which however is sufficient 
for a single man,) but few better. I am not quite alone, 
having brought a servant with me from St. Alban's, 
who is the very mirror of fidelity and affection for his 
master. And whereas the Turkish Spy says, he kept 
6 



1765] TO JOSEPH HILL, ESQ. ^ 

no servant, because he would not have an enemy in 
his house, I hired mine, because I would have a friend. 
Men do not usually bestow these encomiums on their 
lackeys, nor do they usually deserve them ; but I have 
had experience of mine, both in sickness and in health, 
and never saw his fellow. 

The river Ouse, (I forget how they spell it,) is the 
most agreeable circumstance in this part of the world ; 
at this town it is I believe as wide as the Thames at 
Windsor ; nor does the silver Thames better deserve 
that epithet, nor has it more flowers upon its banks, 
these being attributes which in strict truth belong to 
neither. Fluellin would say, they are as like as my 
fingers to my fingers, and there is salmon in both. It 
is a noble stream to bathe in, and I shall make that 
use of it three times a week, having introduced myself 
to it for the first time this morning. 

I beg you will remember me to all my friends, 
which is a task will cost you no great pains to execute : 
particularly remember me to those of your own house, 

and believe me, your very affectionate, 

W. C. 



IV 

To Lady Hesketh. 

HUNTINGDON, July i, 1765. 
MY DEAR LADY HESKETH, 

Since the visit you were so kind as to pay me in 
the Temple (the only time I ever saw you without 



8 LETTERS FROM HUNTINGDON [1765 

pleasure), what have I not suffered ! And since it has 
pleased God to restore me to the use of my reason, 
what have I not enjoyed ! You know, by experience, 
how pleasant it is to feel the first approaches of health 
after a fever ; but, Oh the fever of the brain ! To feel 
the quenching of that fire is indeed a blessing which I 
think it impossible to receive without the most con- 
summate gratitude. Terrible as this chastisement is, 
I acknowledge in it the hand of an infinite justice : 
nor is it at all more difficult for me to perceive in it 
the hand of an infinite mercy likewise : when I con- 
sider the effect it has had upon me, I am exceedingly 
thankful for it, and, without hypocrisy, esteem it the 
greatest blessing, next to life itself, I ever received 
from the divine bounty. I pray God that I may ever 
retain this sense of it, and then I am sure I shall 
continue to be, as I am at present, really happy. 

I write thus to you that you may not think me a 
forlorn and wretched creature ; which you might be 
apt to do, considering my very distant removal from 
every friend I have in the world; a circumstance 
which, before this event befell me, would undoubtedly 
have made me so : but my affliction has taught me a 
road to happiness which without it I should never have 
found ; and I know, and have experience of it every 
day, that the mercy of God, to him who believes him- 
self the object of it, is more than sufficient to compen- 
sate for the loss of every other blessing. 

You may now inform all those whom you think 
really interested in my welfare, that they have no 



1765] TO LADY HESKETH 9 

need to be apprehensive on the score of my happiness 
at present. And you yourself will believe that my 
happiness is no dream, because I have told you the 
foundation on which it is built. What I have written 
would appear like enthusiasm to many, for we are apt 
to give that name to every warm affection of the mind 
in others which we have not experienced in ourselves ; 
but to you, who have so much to be thankful for, and 
a temper inclined to gratitude, it will not appear so. 

I beg you will give my love to Sir Thomas, and 
believe that I am obliged to you both for inquiring 
after me, at St. Alban's. Yours ever, 

\ V . v_/ 



V 

To Joseph Hill, Esq. 

HUNTINGDON, July 3, 1765. 
DEAR JOE, 

Whatever you may think of the matter, it is no 
such easy thing to keep house for two people. A 
man cannot always live upon sheeps' heads, and liver 
and lights, like the lions in the Tower ; and a joint of 
meat, in so small a family, is an endless encumbrance. 
My butcher's bill for last week amounted to four 
shillings and ten-pence. I set off with a leg of lamb, 
and was forced to give part of it away to my washer- 
woman. Then I made an experiment upon a sheep's 
heart, and that was too little. Next I put three 
pounds of beef into a pie, and this had like to have 



io LETTERS TO HUNTINGDON [1765 

been too much, for it lasted three days, though my 
landlord was admitted to a share in it. Then as to 
small beer, I am puzzled to pieces about it. I have 
bought as much for a shilling, as will serve us at least 
a month, and it is grown sour already. In short, I 
never knew how to pity poor housekeepers before ; 
but now I cease to wonder at that politic cast which 
their occupation usually gives to their countenance, 
for it is really a matter full of perplexity. 

I have received but one visit since here I came. I 
don't mean that I have refused any, but that only one 
has been offered. This was from my woollen-draper ; 
a very healthy, wealthy, sensible, sponsible man, and 
extremely civil. He has a cold bath, and has promised 
me a key of it, ^hich I shall probably make use of in 
the winter. He has undertaken, too, to get me the 
St. James's Chronicle three times a-week, and to show 
me Hinchinbrook House, 1 and to do every service for 
me in his power ; so that I did not exceed the truth, 
you see, when I spoke of his civility. Here is a 
card-assembly, and a dancing-assembly, and a horse- 
race, and a club, and a bowling-green, so that I am 
well off, you perceive, in point of diversions ; especially 
as I shall go to 'em, just as much as I should if I 
lived a thousand miles off. But no matter for that ; 
the spectator at a play is more entertained than the 
actor ; and in real life it is much the same. You will 
say, perhaps, that if I never frequent these places, I 
shall not come within the description of a spectator ; 

1 The old seat of the Cromwells at Huntingdon. 



1765] TO JOSEPH HILL, ESQ. II 

and you will say right. I have made a blunder, 
which shall be corrected in the next edition. 

You are an old dog at a bad tenant; witness all 
my uncle's and your mother's geese and gridirons. 
There is something so extremely impertinent in 
entering upon a man's premises, and using them 
without paying for 'em, that I could easily resent it 
if I would. But I rather choose to entertain myself 
with thinking how you will scour the man about, and 
worry him to death, if once you begin with him. 
Poor toad ! I leave him entirely to your mercy. 

My dear Joe, you desire me to write long letters 
I have neither matter enough, nor perseverance enough 
for the purpose. However, if you can but contrive to 
be tired of reading as soon as I am tired of writing, 
we shall find that short ones answer just as well ; and, 
in my opinion, this is a very practicable measure. 

My friend Colman has had good fortune ; I wish 
him better fortune still ; which is, that he may make 
a right use of it. The tragedies of Lloyd and Bensley 
are both very deep. If they are not of use to the sur- 
viving part of the society, it is their own fault. 

I was debtor to Bensley seven pounds, or nine, I 
forget which. If you can find out his brother, you 
will do me a great favour if you will pay him for me ; 
but do it at your leisure. Yours and theirs, 

W . \^t 



12 LETTERS FROM HUNTINGDON [1765 

VI 

To Lady Hesketh. 

HUNTINGDON. Sept. 14, 1765. 
MY DEAR COUSIN, 

The longer I live here, the better I like the place, 
and the people who belong to it. I am upon very 
good terms with no less than five families, besides two 
or three odd scrambling fellows like myself. The last 
acquaintance I made here is with the race of the 
Unwins, consisting of father and mother, son and 
daughter, the most comfortable social folks you ever 
knew. The son is about twenty-one years of age, one 
of the most unreserved and amiable young men I ever 
conversed with. He is not yet arrived at that time of 
life, when suspicion recommends itself to us in the 
form of wisdom, and sets every thing but our own dear 
selves at an immeasurable distance from our esteem 
and confidence. Consequently he is known almost as 
soon as seen, and having nothing in his heart that 
makes it necessary for him to keep it barred and bolted, 
opens it to the perusal even of a stranger. The father 
is a clergyman, and the son is designed for orders. 
The design, however, is quite his own, proceeding 
merely from his being and having always been sincere 
in his belief and love of the Gospel. Another acquaint- 
ance I have lately made is with a Mr. Nicholson, a 
North country divine, very poor, but very good, and 
very happy. He reads prayers here twice a day, all 



1765] TO LADY HESKETH 13 

the year round ; and travels on foot to serve two 
churches every Sunday through the year, his journey 
out and home again being sixteen miles. I supped with 
him last night. He gave me bread and cheese, and a 
black jug of ale of his own brewing, and doubtless 
brewed by his own hands. Another of my acquaint- 
ance is Mr. , a thin, tall, old man, and as good 

as he is thin. He drinks nothing but water, and eats 
no flesh ; partly (I believe) from a religious scruple 
(for he is very religious), and partly in the spirit of a 
valetudinarian. He is to be met with every morning 
of his life, at about six o'clock, at a FOUNTAIN of 
very fine water, about a mile from the town, which is 
reckoned extremely like the Bristol spring. Being 
both early risers, and the only early walkers in the place, 
we soon became acquainted. His great piety can be 
equalled by nothing but his great regularity, for he 
is the most perfect time-piece in the world. I have 

received a visit likewise from Mr. . He is very 

much a gentleman, well read, and sensible. I am 
persuaded, in short, that if I had the choice of all 
England, where to fix my abode, I could not have 
chosen better for myself, and most likely I should not 
have chosen so well. 

You say, you hope it is not necessary for salvation, 
to undergo the same afflictions that I have undergone. 
No ! my dear cousin. God deals with his children as 
a merciful father ; he does not, as he himself tells us, 
afflict willingly the sons of men. Doubtless there are 
many, who, having been placed by his good providence 



I 4 LETTERS FROM HUNTINGDON [1765 

out of the reach of any great evil and the influence of 
bad example, have from their very infancy been par- 
takers of the grace of his Holy Spirit, in such a manner 
as never to have allowed themselves in any grievous 
offence against him. May you love him more and 
more day by day ; as every day, while you think upon 
him, you will find him more worthy of your love : and 
may you be finally accepted with him for His sake, 
whose intercession for all his faithful servants cannot 
but prevail ! Yours ever, 



VII 

To Lady Hesketh. 

HUNTINGDON, Oct. 18, 1765. 

I wish you joy, my dear cousin, of being safely arrived 
in port from the storms of Southampton. For my own 
part, who am but as a Thames wherry, in a world full 
of tempest and commotion, I know so well the value 
of the creek I have put into, and the snugness it affords 
me, that I have a sensible sympathy with you in the 
pleasure you find in being once more blown to Drox- 
ford. I know enough of Miss Morley to send her my 
compliments ; to which, if I had never seen her, her 
affection for you would sufficiently entitle her. If 
I neglected to do it sooner, it is only because I am 
naturally apt to neglect what I ought to do ; and if I 
was as genteel as I am negligent, I should be the most 
delightful creature in the universe. 



1765] TO LADY HESKETH 15 

I am glad you think so favourably of my Huntingdon 
acquaintance ; they are indeed a nice set of folks, and 
suit me exactly. I should have been more particular 
in my account of Miss Unwin, if I had had materials 
for a minute description. She is about eighteen years 
of age, rather handsome and genteel. In her mother's 
company she says little ; not because her mother re- 
quires it of her, but because she seems glad of that 
excuse for not talking, being somewhat inclined to 
bashfulness. There is the most remarkable cordiality 
between all the parts of the family ; and the mother 
and daughter seem to dote upon each other. The first 
time I went to the house I was introduced to the 
daughter alone ; and sat with her near half an hour, 
before her brother came in, who had appointed me to 
call upon him. Talking is necessary in a tete-a-tete, 
to distinguish the persons of the drama from the chairs 
they sit on : accordingly she talked a great deal, and 
extremely well ; and, like the rest of the family, be- 
haved with as much ease of address as if we had been 
old acquaintance. She resembles her mother in her 
great piety, who is one of the most remarkable 
instances of it I have ever seen. They are altogether 
the cheerfulest and most engaging family-piece it is 
possible to conceive. 

Since I wrote the above, I met Mrs. Unwin in 
the street, and went home with her. She and I 
walked together near two hours in the garden, and 
had a conversation which did me more good than I 
should have received from an audience of the first 



16 LETTERS FROM HUNTINGDON [1765 

prince in Europe. That woman is a blessing to me, 
and I never see her without being the better for her 
company. I am treated in the family as if I was a 
near relation, and have been repeatedly invited to 
call upon them at all times. You know what a shy 
fellow I am ; I cannot prevail with myself to make so 
much use of this privilege as I am sure they intend I 
should ; but perhaps this awkwardness will wear off 
hereafter. It was my earnest request before I left 
St. Alban's, that wherever it might please Providence 
to dispose of me, I might meet with such an acquaint- 
ance as I find in Mrs. Unwin. How happy it is to 
believe, with a steadfast assurance, that our petitions 
are heard even while we are making them ; and how 
delightful to meet with a proof of it in the effectual 
and actual grant of them ! Surely it is a gracious 
finishing 'given to those means, which the Almighty 
has been pleased to make use of for my conversion. 
After having been deservedly rendered unfit for any 
society, to be again qualified for it, and admitted at 
once into the fellowship of those whom God regards 
as the excellent of the earth, and whom, in the em- 
phatical language of Scripture, he preserves as the 
apple of his eye, is a blessing which carries with it 
the stamp and visible superscription of divine bounty, 
a grace unlimited as undeserved; and like its 
glorious Author, free in its course, and blessed in its 
operation ! 

My dear cousin ! health and happiness, and above 
all, the favour of our great and gracious Lord, attend 



1765] TO LADY HESKETH 17 

you ! While we seek it in spirit and in truth, we are 
infinitely more secure of it than of the next breath 
we expect to draw. Heaven and earth have their 
destined periods ; ten thousand worlds will vanish at 
the consummation of all things ; but the word of God 
standeth fast ; and they who trust in him shall never 
be confounded. My love to all who inquire after me. 
Yours affectionately, w ,-, 

VIII 

To Major Cowper, at the Park House^ 
near Hartford. 

HUNTINGDON, Oct. 18, 1765. 
MY DEAR MAJOR, 

I have neither lost the use of my fingers nor my 
memory, though my unaccountable silence might in- 
cline you to suspect that I had lost both. The history 
of those things which have, from time to time, pre- 
vented my scribbling, would not only be insipid but 
extremely voluminous; for which reasons they will 
not make their appearance at present, nor probably 
at any time hereafter. If my neglecting to write to 
you were a proof that I had never thought of you, 
and that had been really the case, five shillings a 
piece would have been much too little to give for the 
sight of such a monster! but I am no such monster, 
nor do I perceive in myself the least tendency to 
such a transformation. You may recollect that I 
had but very uncomfortable expectations of the ac- 

VOL. i c 



18 LETTERS FROM HUNTINGDON [1765 

commodation I should meet with at Huntingdon. 
How much better is it to take our lot, where it shall 
please Providence to cast it, without anxiety ! Had 
I chosen for myself, it is impossible I could have 
fixed upon a place so agreeable to me in all respects. 
I so much dreaded the thought of having a new 
acquaintance to make, with no other recommenda- 
tion than that of being a perfect stranger, that I 
heartily wished no creature here might take the least 
notice of me. Instead of which, in about two months 
after my arrival, I became known to all the visitable 
people here, and do verily think it the most agreeable 
neighbourhood I ever saw. 

Here are three families who have received me with 
the utmost civility ; and two in particular have treated 
me with as much cordiality as if their pedigrees and 
mine had grown upon the same sheep-skin. Besides 
these, there are three or four single men who suit my 
temper to a hair. The town is one of the neatest in 
England ; the country is fine, for several miles about 
it ; and the roads, which are all turnpike, and strike 
out four or five different ways, are perfectly good all 
the year round. I mention this latter circumstance 
chiefly because my distance from Cambridge has made 
a horseman of me at last, or at least is likely to do so. 
My brother and I meet every week, by an alternate 
reciprocation of intercourse, as Sam Johnson would 
express it; sometimes I get a lift in a neighbour's 
chaise, but generally ride. As to my own personal 
condition, I am much happier than the day is long, 



1765] TO MAJOR COW PER 19 

and sunshine and candlelight see me perfectly con- 
tented. I get books in abundance, as much company 
as I choose, a deal of comfortable leisure, and enjoy 
better health, I think, than for many years past. 
What is there wanting to make me happy ? Nothing, 
if I can but be as thankful as I ought ; and I trust 
that He who has bestowed so many blessings upon 
me, will give me gratitude to crown them all. I beg 
you will give my love to my dear cousin Maria, and 
to every body at the Park. If Mrs. Maitland is with 
you, as I suspect by a passage in Lady Hesketh's letter 
to me, pray remember me to her very affectionately. 
And believe me, my dear friend, ever yours. 



IX 

To Joseph Hill, Esq. 

Oct. 25, 1765. 
DEAR JOE, 

I am afraid the month of October has proved rather 
unfavourable to the belle assemblee at Southampton ; 
high winds and continual rains being bitter enemies 
to that agreeable lounge, which you and I are equally 
fond of. I have very cordially betaken myself to my 
books, and my fireside ; and seldom leave them unless 
for exercise. I have added another family to the 
number of those I was acquainted with when you were 
here. Their name is Unwin the most agreeable 
people imaginable ; quite sociable, and as free from the 
ceremonious civility of country gentlefolks as any I 



20 LETTERS FROM HUNTINGDON [1765 

ever met with. They treat me more like a near rela- 
tion than a stranger, and their house is always open to 
me. The old gentleman carries me to Cambridge in 
his chaise. He is a man of learning and good sense, 
and as simple' as parson Adams. His wife has a very 
uncommon understanding, has read much to excellent 
purpose, and is more polite than a duchess. The son, 
who belongs to Cambridge, is a most amiable young 
man, and the daughter quite of a piece with the rest 
of the family. They see but little company, which 
suits me exactly ; go when I will, I find a house full 
of peace and cordiality in all its parts, and I am sure 
to hear no scandal, but such discourse instead of it 
as we are all better for. You remember Rousseau's 
description of an English morning; such are the 
mornings I spend with these good people ; and the 
evenings differ from them in nothing, except that they 
are still more snug, and quieter. Now I know them, 
I wonder that I liked Huntingdon so well before I 
knew them, and am apt to think I should find every 
place disagreeable that had not an Unwin belonging 
to it. 

This incident convinces me of the truth of an 
observation I have often made, that when we circum- 
scribe our estimate of all that is clever within the 
limits of our own acquaintance (which I at least have 
been always apt to do), we are guilty of a very un- 
charitable censure upon the rest of the world, and of 
a narrowness of thinking disgraceful to ourselves. 
Wapping and Redriff may contain some of the most 



1765] TO JOSEPH HILL, ESQ. 21 

amiable persons living, and such as one would go 
to Wapping and Redriff to make acquaintance with. 
You remember Mr. Gray's stanza 

" Full many a gem of purest ray serene, 
The dark unfathom'd caves of ocean bear ; 
Full many a flower is born to blush unseen, 
And waste its sweetness on the desert air." 

Yours, dear Joe, - P 



X 

To Joseph Hill, Esq. 

Nov. 5, 1765. 

DEAR JOE, 

I wrote to you about ten days ago, 

Soliciting a quick return of gold, 

To purchase certain horse that like me well. 

Either my letter or your answer to it, I fear, has mis- 
carried. The former, I hope ; because a miscarriage 
of the latter might be attended with bad consequences. 
I find it impossible to proceed any longer in my 
present course, without danger of bankruptcy. I 
have therefore entered into an agreement with the 
Rev. Mr. Unwin, to lodge and board with him. The 
family are the most agreeable in the world. They 
live in a special good house, and in a very genteel 
way. They are all exactly what I would wish them 
to be, and I know I shall be as happy with them as I 
can be on this side of the sun. I did not dream of 
this matter till about five days ago: but now the 
whole is settled. I shall transfer myself thither as 



22 LETTERS FROM HUNTINGDON [1765 

soon as I have satisfied all demands upon me here. 
Yours ever, ^y p 

I know nobody so like Mrs. Unwin as my Aunt 
Madan, I don't mean in person, for she is a much 
younger woman, but in character. 



XI 

To Mrs. Cowper, at the Park House, 
Hartford. 

HUNTINGDON, Oct. 20, 1766. 
Mv DEAR COUSIN, 

I am very sorry for poor Charles's illness, and hope 
you will soon have cause to thank God for his com- 
plete recovery. We have an epidemical fever in this 
country likewise, which leaves behind it a continual 
sighing, almost to suffocation ; not that I have seen 
any instance of it, for, blessed be God ! our family 
have hitherto escaped it, but such was the account I 
heard of it this morning. 

I am obliged to you for the interest you take in my 
welfare, and for your inquiring so particularly after 
the manner in which my time passes here. As to 
amusements, I mean what the world calls such, we 
have none ; the place indeed swarms with them, and 
cards and dancing are the professed business of almost 
all the gentle inhabitants of Huntingdon. We refuse 
to take part in them, or to be accessaries to this 
way of murdering our time, and by so doing have 



1766] TO MRS. COW PER 23 

acquired the name of Methodists. Having told you 
how we do not spend our time, I will next say how we 
do. We breakfast commonly between eight and nine ; 
till eleven, we read either the Scripture, or the sermons 
of some faithful preacher of those holy mysteries ; at 
eleven we attend divine service, which is performed 
here twice every day ; and from twelve to three we 
separate and amuse ourselves as we please. During 
that interval I either read in my own apartment, or 
walk, or ride, or work in the garden. We seldom sit 
an hour after dinner, but if the weather permits 
adjourn to the garden, where with Mrs. Unwin and 
her son I have generally the pleasure of religious 
conversation till tea-time. If it rains, or is too windy 
for walking, we either converse within doors, or sing 
some hymns of Martin's collection, and by the help of 
Mrs. Unwin's harpsichord make up a tolerable concert, 
in which our hearts, I hope, are the best and most 
musical performers. After tea we sally forth to walk 
in good earnest. Mrs. Unwin is a good walker, 
and we have generally travelled about four miles 
before we see home again. When the days are short, 
we make this excursion in the former part of the day, 
between church-time and dinner. At night we read 
and converse, as before, till supper, and commonly 
finish the evening either with hymns or a sermon ; 
and last of all the family are called to prayers. I 
need not iellymt, that such a life as this is consistent 
with the utmost cheerfulness ; accordingly we are all 
happy, and dwell together in unity as brethren. 



24 LETTERS FROM HUNTINGDON [1766 

Mrs. Unwin has almost a maternal affection for me, 
and I have something very like a filial one for her, 
and her son and I are brothers. Blessed be the God 
of our salvation for such companions, and for such a 
life ; above all, for a heart to like it. 

I have had many anxious thoughts about taking 
orders, and I believe every new convert is apt to 
think himself called upon for that purpose ; but it 
has pleased God, by means which there is no need to 
particularize, to give me full satisfaction as to the 
propriety of declining it ; indeed, they who have the 
least idea of what I have suffered from the dread 
of public exhibitions, will readily excuse my never 
attempting them hereafter. In the meantime, if it 
please the Almighty, I may be an instrument of turn- 
ing many to the truth in a private way, and I hope 
that my endeavours in this way have not been entirely 
unsuccessful. Had I the zeal of Moses, I should 
want an Aaron to be my spokesman. Yours ever, 
my dear cousin, ,, r , 

XII 

To Mrs. Cowper, at the Park House, 
Hartford. 

HUNTINGDON, July 13, 1767. 
MY DEAR COUSIN, 

The newspaper has told you the truth. Poor Mr. 
Unwin being flung from his horse, as he was going to 
the church on Sunday morning, received a dreadful 



1767] TO MRS. COW PER 25 

fracture on the back part of the skull, under which 
he languished till Thursday evening, and then died. 
This awful dispensation has left an impression upon 
our spirits which will not presently be worn off. He 
died in a poor cottage, to which he was carried im- 
mediately after his fall about a mile from home; 
and his body could not be brought to his house till 
the spirit was gone to Him who gave it. May it be 
a lesson to us to watch, since we know not the day 
nor the hour when our Lord cometh ! 

The effect of it upon my circumstances will only be 
a change of the place of my abode. For I shall still, 
by God's leave, continue with Mrs. Unwin, whose 
behaviour to me has always been that of a mother to 
a son. We know not yet where we shall settle, but 
we trust that the Lord, whom we seek, will go before 
us, and prepare a rest for us. We have employed our 
friend Haweis, Dr. Conyers of Helmsley in Yorkshire, 
and Mr. Newton of Olney, to look out a place for us, 
but at present are entirely ignorant under which of 
the three we shall settle, or whether under either. I 
have written to my Aunt Madan, to desire Martin to 
assist us with his enquiries. It is probable we shall 
stay here till Michaelmas. w ^ 



LETTERS FROM OLNEY 
1769-1786 

XIII 

To Joseph Hill, Esq. 

1769. 
DEAR JOE, 

Sir Thomas crosses the Alps, and Sir Cowper, 
for that is his title at Olney, prefers his home to any 
other spot of earth in the world. Horace, observing 
this difference of temper in different persons, cried 
out a good many years ago, in the true spirit of poetry, 
" How much one man differs from another ! " This 
does not seem a very sublime exclamation in English, 
but I remember we were taught to admire it in the 
original. 

My dear friend, I am obliged to you for your 
invitation : but being long accustomed to retirement, 
which I was always fond of, I am now more than ever 
unwilling to revisit those noisy and crowded scenes, 
which I never loved, and which I now abhor. I 
remember you with all the friendship I ever professed, 
which is as much as I ever entertained for any man. 
26 



1769] TO JOSEPH HILL, ESQ. 27 

But the strange and uncommon incidents of my life 
have given an entire new turn to my whole character 
and conduct, and rendered me incapable of receiving 
pleasure from the same employments and amusements 
of which I could readily partake in former days. 

I love you and yours ; I thank you for your con- 
tinued remembrance of me, and shall not cease to be 
their and your affectionate friend and servant, 

W. C. 



XIV 

To Joseph Hill, Esq. 

Nov. 12, 1776. 

DEAR FRIEND, 

The very agreeable contents of your last came safe 
to hand in the shape of two notes for thirty pounds. 
I am to thank you likewise for a barrel of very good 
oysters, received about a fortnight ago. One to whom 
fish is so welcome as it is to me, can have no great 
occasion to distinguish the sorts. In general, there- 
fore, whatever fish are likely to think a jaunt into the 
country agreeable, will be sure to find me ready to 
receive them ; butts, plaice, flounder, or any other. 
If herrings are yet to be had, as they cannot be bought 
at Olney till they are good for nothing, they will be 
welcome too. We have seen none this year, except a 
parcel that Mrs. Unwin sent for, and the fishmonger 
sent stale ones, a trick they are apt to play upon their 
customers at a distance. 



28 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1776 

Having suffered so much from nervous fevers my- 
self I know how to congratulate Ashley upon his 
recovery. Other distempers only batter the walls; 
but they creep silently into the citadel, and put the 
garrison to the sword. 

You perceive I have not made a squeamish use of 
your obliging offer. The remembrance of past years, 
and of the sentiments formerly exchanged in our 
evening walks, convinces me still that an unreserved 
acceptance of what is graciously offered is the hand- 
somest way of dealing with one of your character. 

Believe me, yours, 

WM. COWPER. 

XV 

To Joseph Hil^ Esq. 

April I fancy the 2oth, 1777. 

MY DEAR FRIEND, 

Thanks for a turbot, a lobster, and Captain Brydone ; 
a gentleman who relates his travels so agreeably, that 
he deserves always to travel with an agreeable com- 
panion. I have been reading Gray's Works, and think 
him the only poet since Shakspeare entitled to the 
character of sublime. Perhaps you will remember that 
I once had a different opinion of him. I was preju- 
diced. He did not belong to our Thursday society, 
and was an Eton man, which lowered him prodigiously 
in our esteem. I once thought Swift's letters the best 
that could be written ; but I like Gray's better. His 



17773 TO JOSEPH HILL, ESQ. 29 

humour, or his wit, or whatever it is to be called, is 
never ill-natured or offensive, and yet, I think equally 
poignant with the Dean's. I am, yours affectionately, 

WM. COWPER. 



XVI 

To the Rev. VV. Unwin. 

July 18, 1778. 

MY DEAR FRIEND, 

I hurry you into the midst of things at once, which 
if it be not much in the epistolary style, is acknow- 
ledged however to be very sublime. Mr. Morley, 
videlicet the grocer, is guilty of much neglect and 
carelessness, and has lately so much disappointed your 
mother, that she is at last obliged to leave him, and 
begs you will send her Mr. Rawlinson's address, 
that she may transfer her custom to him. She adds, 
moreover, that she was well aware of the unseason- 
ableness of salmon at this time, and did not mean 
that you should order any to Olney till the spring. 

We are indebted to you for your political intelli- 
gence, but have it not in our power to pay you in 
kind. Proceed, however, to give us such information 
as cannot be learned from the newspaper ; and when 
any thing arises at Olney, that is not in the thread- 
bare style of daily occurrences, you shall hear of it 
in return. Nothing of this sort has happened lately, 
except that a lion was imported here at the fair, seventy 
years of age, and was as tame as a goose. Your 



30 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1778 

mother and I saw him embrace his keeper with his 
paws, and lick his face. Others saw him receive his 
head in his mouth, and restore it to him again un- 
hurt ; a sight we chose not to be favoured with, but 
rather advised the honest man to discontinue the 
practice, a practice hardly reconcileable to prudence, 
unless he had a head to spare. The beast, however, 
was a very magnificent one, and much more royal in 
his appearance than those I have seen in the Tower. 

The paper tells us that the Chancellor is frequently 
at the Register Office, having conceived a design to 
shorten the proceedings in his court. If he has indeed 
such a purpose in view, he is so industrious and so 
resolute, that he will never let it drop unaccomplished. 
Perhaps the practitioners will have no reason to regret 
it, as they may gain in such an event, more by the 
multiplicity of suits, than they do at present by the 
length of them. 

Your mother joins me in affectionate respects I 
should have said in love, to yourself, Mrs. Unwin, 
Miss Shuttleworth, and little John. If you will accept 
this for a letter, perhaps I may be able to furnish you 
with more such upon occasion. Yours, with thanks 

for your last. 

J WM. COWPER. 



i '/79l TO THE REV. WILLIAM UN WIN 31 

XVII 

To the Rev. William Unwin. 

May 26, 1779. 

MY DEAR FRIEND, 

I must beg your assistance in a design I have formed 
to cheat the glazier. Government has laid a tax upon 
glass, and he has trebled it. I want as much as will 
serve for a large frame, but am unwilling to pay an 
exorbitant price for it. I shall be obliged to you, 
therefore, if you will enquire at a glass-manufacturer's 
how he sells his Newcastle glass, such as is used for 
frames and hothouses. If you will be so good as to 
send me this information, and at the same time the 
manufacturer's address, I will execute the rest of the 
business myself, without giving you any farther trouble. 

I am obliged to you for the Poets ; and though I 
little thought that I was translating so much money 
out of your pocket into the bookseller's, when I turned 
Prior's poem into Latin, yet I must needs say that, 
if you think it worth while to purchase the English 
Classics at all, you cannot possess yourself of them 
upon better terms. I have looked into some of the 
volumes, but not having yet finished the Register have 
merely looked into them. A few things I have met 
with, which if they had been burned the moment they 
were written, it would have been better for the author, 
and at least as well for his readers. There is not 
much of this, but a little is too much. I think it a pity 
the editor admitted any; the English Muse would 



32 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1779 

have lost no credit by the omission of such trash. 
Some of them again seem to me to have but a very 
disputable right to a place among the Classics ; and I 
am quite at a loss, when I see them in such company, 
to conjecture what is Dr. Johnson's idea or definition 
of classical merit. But if he inserts the poems of some 
who can hardly be said to deserve such an honour, the 
purchaser may comfort himself with the hope that he 
will exclude none that do. 

Your mother sends her love and affectionate remem- 
brance to all at Stock, from the tallest to the shortest 
there, in which she is accompanied by yours, 

WM. COWPER. 

XVIII 

To the Rev. William Umvin. 

,, /(X - 79- 

MY DEAR FRIEND, 

If you please, you may give my service to Mr. James 
Martin, glazier, and tell him that I have furnished 
myself with glass from Bedford, for half the money. 

When I was at Margate, it was an excursion of 
pleasure to go to see Ramsgate. The pier, I remem- 
ber, was accounted a most excellent piece of stone- 
work, and such I found it. By this time, I suppose, it 
is finished ; and surely it is no small advantage, that 
you have an opportunity of observing how nicely those 
great stones are put together, as often as you please, 
without either trouble or expense. But you think 
Margate more lively. So is a Cheshire cheese full of 



1779] TO THE REV. WILLIAM UNWIN 33 

mites more lively than a sound one; but that very 
liveliness only proves its rottenness. I remember, too, 
that Margate, though full of company, was generally 
filled with such company, as people who were nice in 
the choice of their company, were rather fearful of 
keeping company with. The hoy went to London 
every week, loaded with mackerel and herrings, and 
returned loaded with company. 1 The cheapness of the 
conveyance made it equally commodious for Dead fish 
and Lively company. So, perhaps, your solitude at 
Ramsgate may turn out another advantage ; at least 
I should think it one. 

There was not, at that time, much to be seen in 
the Isle of Thanet, besides the beauty of the country, 
and the fine prospects of the sea, which are no where 
surpassed except in the Isle of Wight, or upon some 
parts of the coast of Hampshire. One sight, however, 
I remember, engaged my curiosity, and I went to see it : 
a fine piece of ruins, built by the late Lord Holland, 
at a great expense, which, the day after I saw it, 
tumbled down for nothing. Perhaps, therefore, it is 
still a ruin; and if it is, I would advise you by all 
means to visit it, as it must have been much improved 
by this fortunate incident. It is hardly possible to 
put stones together with that air of wild and magnifi- 
cent disorder which they are sure to acquire by falling 
of their own accord. 

1 Charles Lamb has a well-known essay on the old Margate hoy 
with its "weather-beaten, sun-burnt captain, and his rough accom- 
modations ill-exchanged for the foppery and fresh-water niceness 
of the modern steam- packet, " 

VOL. I D 



34 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1779 

We heartily wish that Mrs. Unwin may receive 
the utmost benefit of bathing. At the same time we 
caution you against the use of it, however the heat of 
the weather may seem to recommend it. It is not safe 
for thin habits, hectically inclined. 

I remember, (the fourth and last thing I mean to 
remember upon this occasion,) that Sam Cox, the 
counsel, walking by the seaside as if absorbed in deep 
contemplation, was questioned about what he was 
musing on. He replied, " I was wondering that such 
an almost infinite and unwieldy element should pro- 
duce a sprat" Our love attends your whole party. 
Yours affectionately, -^ P 

P.S. You are desired to purchase three pounds of 
sixpenny white worsted, at a shop well recommended 
for that commodity. The Isle of Thanet is famous 
for it, beyond any other place in the kingdom. 

XIX 

To the Rev. William Unwin. 

July 17, 1779. 

MY DEAR FRIEND, 

We envy you your sea-breezes. In the garden we 
feel nothing but the reflection of the heat from the 
walls ; and in the parlour, from the opposite houses. 
I fancy Virgil was so situated when he wrote those 
two beautiful lines : 



Oh quis me gelidis in vallibus Hami 



Sistat, et ingenti ramorum frotegat umbrd ! 



1779] TO THE REV. WILLIAM UNWIN 35 

The worst of it is, that though the sun-beams strike 
as forcibly upon my harp-strings as they did upon his, 
they elicit no such sounds, but rather produce such 
groans as they are said to have drawn from those of 
the statue of Memnon. 

As you have ventured to make the experiment, your 
own experience will be your best guide in the article 
of bathing. An inference will hardly follow, though 
one should pull at it with all one's might, from 
Smollett's case to yours. He was corpulent, muscular, 
and strong; whereas, if you were either stolen or 
strayed, such a description of you in an advertisement 
would hardly direct an enquirer with sufficient accuracy 
and exactness. But if bathing does not make your 
head ache, or prevent your sleeping at night, I should 
imagine it could not hurt you. 

I remember taking a walk upon the strand at 
Margate, where the cliff is high and perpendicular. 
At long intervals there are cart-ways, cut through the 
rock down to the beach, and there is no other way of 
access to it, or of return from it. I walked near a 
mile upon the water edge, without observing that the 
tide was rising fast upon me. When I did observe it, 
it was almost too late. I ran every step back again, 
and had much ado to save my distance. I mention 
this as a caution, lest you should happen at any time 
to be surprised as I was. It would be very unpleasant 
to be forced to cling, like a cat, to the side of a 
precipice, and perhaps hardly possible to do it, for 
four hours without any respite. 



36 LETTERS FROM OLNEV [1779 

It seems a trifle, but it is a real disadvantage to 
have no better name to pass by than the gentleman 
you mention. Whether we suppose him settled and 
promoted in the army, the church, or the law, how 
uncouth the sound Captain Twopenny ! Bishop 
Twopenny ! Judge Twopenny ! The abilities of Lord 
Mansfield would hardly impart a dignity to such a 
name. Should he perform deeds worthy of poetical 
panegyric, how difficult would it be to ennoble the 
sound of Twopenny ! 

Muse ! place him high upon the lists of Fame, 
The wonderous man, and Twopenny his name ! 

But to be serious, if the French should land in the 
Isle of Thanet, and Mr. Twopenny should fall into 
their hands, he will have a fair opportunity to frenchify 
his name, and may call himself Monsieur Deux Sous ; 
which, when he comes to be exchanged by Cartel, will 
easily resume an English form, and slide naturally 
into Two Shoes, in my mind a considerable improve- 
ment. Yours affectionately, w P 



XX 

To the Rev. William Unwin. 

Sept. 21, 1779. 

AM ico AtiOy 

Be pleased to buy me a glazier's diamond pencil. 
I have glazed the two frames designed to receive my 
pine plants ; but I cannot mend the kitchen windows, 



17791 TO THE REV. WILLIAAI UNWIN 37 

till by the help of that implement I can reduce the 
glass to its proper dimensions. If I were a plumber 
I should be a complete glazier; and possibly the 
happy time may come, when I shall be seen trudging 
away to the neighbouring towns with a shelf of glass 
hanging at my back. If government should impose 
another tax upon that commodity, I hardly know a 
business in which a gentleman might more successfully 
employ himself. A Chinese, of ten times my fortune, 
would avail himself of such an opportunity without 
scruple ; and why should not I, who want money as 
much as any mandarin in China? Rousseau would 
have been charmed to have seen me so occupied, and 
would have exclaimed with rapture, " that he had 
found the Emilius who (he supposed) had subsisted 
only in his own idea." I would recommend it to you 
to follow my example. You will presently qualify 
yourself for the task, and may not only amuse your- 
self at home, but may even exercise your skill in 
mending the church windows ; which, as it would save 
money to the parish, would conduce, t together with 
your other ministerial accomplishments, to make you 
extremely popular in the place. 

I have eight pair of tame pigeons. When I first 
enter the garden in a morning, I find them perched 
upon the wall, waiting for their breakfast ; for I feed 
them always upon the gravel-walk. If your wish 
should be accomplished, and you should find yourself 
furnished with the wings of a dove, I shall undoubtedly 
find you amongst them. Only be so good, if that 



38 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [i779 

should be the case, to announce yourself by some 
means or other. For I imagine your crop will re- 
quire something better than tares to fill it. 

Your mother and I last week made a trip in a post- 
chaise to Gayhurst, the seat of Mr. Wright, about four 
miles off. He understood that I did not much affect 
strange faces, and sent over his servant on purpose to 
inform me that he was going into Leicestershire, and 
that if I chose to see the gardens, I might gratify 
myself without danger of seeing the proprietor. I 
accepted the invitation, and was delighted with all I 
found there. The situation is happy, the gardens 
elegantly disposed, the hot-house in the most flourish- 
ing state, and the orange trees the most captivating 
creatures of the kind I ever saw. A man, in short, 
had need have the talents of Cox or Langford, the 
auctioneers, to do the whole scene justice. Our love 
attends you all. Yours, P 



XXI 


To the Rev. William Unwin. 

Oct. 31, 1779. 

MY DEAR FRIEND, 

I wrote my last letter merely to inform you that I 
had nothing to say ; in answer to which you have said 
nothing. I admire the propriety of your conduct 
though I am a loser by it. I will endeavour to say 
something now, and shall hope for something in 
return. 



1779] TO 1 'HE REV. WILLIAM UNWIN 39 

I have been well entertained with Johnson's bio- 
graphy, for which I thank you : with one exception, 
and that a swingeing one, I think he has acquitted 
himself with his usual good sense and sufficiency. His 
treatment of Milton is unmerciful to the last degree. 
A pensioner is not likely to spare a republican ; and 
the Doctor, in order, I suppose, to convince his royal 
patron of the sincerity of his monarchical principles, 
has belaboured that great poet's character with the 
most industrious cruelty. As a man, he has hardly 
left him the shadow of one good quality. Churlish- 
ness in his private life, and a rancorous hatred of 
everything royal in his public, are the two colours 
with which he has smeared all the canvass. If he had 
any virtues, they are not to be found in the Doctor's 
picture of him ; and it is well for Milton, that some 
sourness in his temper is the only vice with which his 
memory has been charged ; it is evident enough that 
if his biographer could have discovered more, he 
would not have spared him. As a poet, he has treated 
him with severity enough, and has plucked one or two 
of the most beautiful feathers out of his Muse's wing, 
and trampled them under his great foot. He has 
passed sentence of condemnation upon Lycidas, and 
has taken occasion, from that charming poem, to 
expose to ridicule, (what is indeed ridiculous enough,) 
the childish prattlement of pastoral compositions, as 
if Lycidas was the prototype and pattern of them all. 
The liveliness of the description, the sweetness of the 
numbers, the classical spirit of antiquity that prevails 



40 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1779 

in it, go for nothing. I am convinced by the way, 
that he has no ear for poetical numbers, or that it was 
stopped by prejudice against the harmony of Milton's. 
Was there ever any thing so delightful as the music of 
the Paradise Lost ? It is like that of a fine organ ; 
has the fullest and the deepest tones of majesty, with 
all the softness and elegance of the Dorian flute. 
Variety without end and never equalled, unless perhaps 
by Virgil. Yet the Doctor has little or nothing to say 
upon this copious theme, but talks something about 
the unfitness of the English language for blank verse, 
and how apt it is, in the mouth of some readers, to 
degenerate into declamation. Oh ! I could thresh his 
old jacket, till I made his pension jingle in his pocket. 
I could talk a good while longer, but I have no 
room ; our love attends you. Yours affectionately, 

W. C. 

XXII 

To JosepJi Hill, Esq. 

Nov. 14, 1779. 

MY DEAR FRIEND, 

Your approbation of my last Heliconian present 
encourages me to send you another. I wrote it, indeed, 
on purpose for you ; for my subjects are not always 
such as I could hope would prove agreeable to you. My 
mind has always a melancholy cast, and is like some 
pools I have seen, which, though filled with a black 
and putrid water, will nevertheless, in a bright day, 
reflect the sun-beams from their surface. 



17791 TO JOSEPH HILL, ESQ. 41 

"On the Promotion of Edward Thurlow," &c. 
Yours affectionately, WM CowpER> 

XXIII 

To the Rev. William Unwin. 

Dec. 2, 1779. 

MY DEAR FRIEND, 

How quick is the succession of human events ! The 
cares of to-day are seldom the cares of to-morrow ; 
and when we lie down at night, we may safely say to 
most of our troubles "Ye have done your worst, and 
we shall meet no more." 

This observation was suggested to me by reading 
your last letter ; which though I have written since I 
received it, I have never answered. When that epistle 
passed under your pen, you were miserable about your 
tithes, and your imagination was hung round with 
pictures, that terrified you to such a degree, as made 
even the receipt of money burdensome. But it is all 
over now. You sent away your farmers in good 
humour, (for you can make people merry whenever 
you please,) and now you have nothing to do but to 
chink your purse, and laugh at what is past. Your 
delicacy makes you groan under that which other 
men never feel, or feel but slightly. A fly, that settles 
upon the tip of the nose, is troublesome ; and this is 
a comparison adequate to the most that mankind in 
general are sensible of, upon such tiny occasions. But 
the flies, that pester you, always get between your 



42 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1779 

eyelids, where the annoyance is almost insupport- 
able. 

I would follow your advice, and endeavour to 
furnish Lord North with a scheme of supplies for the 
ensuing year, if the difficulty I find in answering the 
call of my own emergencies did not make me despair 
of satisfying those of the nation. I can say but this ; 
if I had ten acres of land in the world, whereas I have 
not one, and in those ten acres should discover a gold 
mine, richer than all Mexico and Peru, when I had 
reserved a few ounces for my own annual supply, I 
would willingly give the rest to government. My 
ambition would be more gratified by annihilating the 
national incumbrances, than by going daily down to 
the bottom of a mine, to wallow in my own emolu- 
ment. This is patriotism, you will allow ; but, alas, 
this virtue is for the most part in the hands of those 
who can do no good with it ! He that has but a single 
handful of it, catches so greedily at the first oppor- 
tunity of growing rich, that his patriotism drops to the 
ground, and he grasps the gold instead of it. He that 
never meets with such an opportunity, holds it fast in 
his clenched fists, and says, "Oh, how much good I 
would do, if I could ! " 

Your mother says "Pray send my dear love." 
There is hardly room to add mine but you will 
suppose it. Yours, w p 



1780] TO THE REV. WILLIAM UNWIN 43 

XXIV 

To the Rev. W. Unwin. 

Feb. 13, 1780. 

MY DEAR FRIEND, 

The last of your mother's two reasons for not writing 
sooner, must serve as an apology for me. Uncertain 
when you would go to town, I chose to stay till that 
affair was decided. I am to thank you for your portraits 
taken from the life in the House of Commons, not 
forgetting the Chancellor, the Duke of Richmond, and 
the Bishops' wigs. Mr. Burke's mispronunciation of 
the word vectigal, brings to my remembrance a jocular 
altercation that passed when I was once in the gallery, 
between Mr. Rigby and the late Alderman Beckford. 
The latter was a very incorrect speaker, and the 
former, I imagine, not a very accurate scholar. He 
ventured, however, upon a quotation from Terence, 
and delivered it thus, Sine Scelere et Baccho friget 
Venus. The Alderman interrupted him, was very 
severe upon his mistake, and restored Ceres to her 
place in the sentence. Mr. Rigby replied that he 
was obliged to his worthy friend for teaching him 
Latin, and would take the first opportunity to return 
the favour by teaching him English. 

You are not alone, I believe, in thinking that you 
see a striking resemblance between the reign of his 
present majesty and that of Charles the First. The 
undue extension of the influence of the crown ; the 



44 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1780 

discountenancing and displacing of men obnoxious to 
the court, though otherwise men of unexceptionable 
conduct and character; the waste of the public money, 
and especially the suspicion that obtains of a fixed 
design in government to favour the cause of Popery, 
are features common to both faces. Again these 
causes have begun to produce the same effects now as 
they did in the reign of that unhappy monarch. It is 
long since I saw Lord Clarendon's account of it, but 
unless my memory fails me much, I think you will 
find, (and, indeed, it could hardly be otherwise,) that 
the leaders of the discontented party, and the several 
counties in their interest, had a good understanding 
with each other, and devised means for the communi- 
cation of intelligence much like our modern com- 
mittees of correspondence. You ask my opinion of 
the tendency of such associations. No, I mistake ; 
you do not ask mine, but you give your own, which 
is exactly according to my own sentiments. Indeed 
they are explicit enough, and if one was inclined to 
suppose their intentions peaceable, they have taken 
care that the supposition shall be groundless. A year 
ago they expressed their wishes that the people would 
rise, and their astonishment that they did not. Now, 
they tell government plainly that the spirit of resistance 
is gone forth, that the nation is at last roused, that 
they will fly to arms upon the next provocation, and 
bid them slight the Yorkshire petition at their peril. 
Sir George Saville's speech reminded me of that line 
in which is described the opening of the Temple of 



1780] TO THE REV. WILLIAM UNWIN 45 

Janus, a ceremony that obtained as the established 
prelude to a war ; 

Discordia tetra 
Belli ferratos posies, portusque refregit. 

It seems clear, then, that hostilities are intended as 
the last resource. As to the time they choose for the 
purpose, it is, in my mind, the worst they could have 
chosen. So many gentlemen of the first rank and 
property in the kingdom, resolutely bent upon their 
purpose, their design professedly so laudable, and their 
means of compassing it so formidable, would command 
attention at any time. A quarrel of this kind, even 
if it proceeded to the last extremity, might possibly 
be settled without the ruin of the country, while there 
was peace with the neighbouring kingdoms ; but while 
there is war abroad, such an extensive war as the 
present, I fear it cannot. 

I add to what your mother says about Indian ink, 
a few brushes, and a pencil or two, with any thing 
else that may be considered convenient for the use 
of a beginner, as far as five shillings. I do not think 
my talent in the art worth more. She desires me to 
remind you of your promised vote and interest for a 
place in Christ's Hospital, of which, she understands, 
you are now a governor ; and the parcel may come 
by the waggon, which it will do if it is sent on a 
Wednesday to the Windmill in St. John Street. 



46 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1780 

XXV 

To the Rev. William Unwin. 

Feb. 27, 1780. 

MY DEAR FRIEND, 

As you are pleased to desire my letters, I am the 
more pleased with writing them ; though at the same 
time I must needs testify my surprise that you should 
think them worth receiving, as I seldom send one that 
I think favourably of myself. This is not to be under- 
stood as an imputation upon your taste or judgment, 
but as an encomium upon my own modesty and 
humility, which I desire you to remark well. It is a 
just observation of Sir Joshua Reynolds, that though 
men of ordinary talents may be highly satisfied with 
their own productions, men of true genius never 
are. Whatever be their subject, they always seem to 
themselves to fall short of it, even when they seem 
to others most to excel. And for this reason, 
because they have a certain sublime sense of per- 
fection, which other men are strangers to, and which 
they themselves in their performances are not able to 
exemplify. Your servant, Sir Joshua ! I little thought 
of seeing you when I began ; but as you have popped 
in you are welcome. 

When I wrote last, I was a little inclined to send 
you a copy of verses entitled the Modern Patriot, but 
was not quite pleased with a line or two, which I 
found it difficult to mend, therefore did not. At 
night I read Mr. Burke's speech in the newspaper, and 



1780] TO THE REV. WILLIAM UNWIN 47 

was so well pleased with his proposals for a reforma- 
tion, and with the temper in which he made them, 
that I began to think better of his cause, and burnt my 
verses. Such is the lot of the man who writes upon 
the subject of the day ; the aspect of affairs changes 
in an hour or two, and his opinion with it ; what was 
just and well-deserved satire in the morning, in the 
evening becomes a libel ; the author commences his 
own judge, and while he condemns with unrelenting 
severity what he so lately approved, is sorry to find 
that he has laid his leaf-gold upon touchwood, which 
crumbled away under his fingers. Alas ! what can I 
do with my wit? I have not enough to do great 
things with, and these little things are so fugitive, that 
while a man catches at the subject, he is only filling 
his hand with smoke. I must do with it as I do with 
my linnet ; I keep him for the most part in a cage, but 
now and then set open the door, that he may whisk 
about the room a little, and then shut him up again. 
My whisking wit has produced the following, the 
subject of which is more important than the manner 
in which I have treated it seems to imply, but a fable 
may speak truth, and all truth is sterling ; I only 
premise, that in a philosophical tract in the Register^ 
I found it asserted that the glowworm is the nightin- 
gale's food. 1 

Have you heard ? who has not ? for a recommend- 
atory advertisement of it is already published ; that 

1 This letter contained the fable of the Nightingale and Glow- 
worm. R. SOUTHEY. 



48 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1780 

a certain kinsman of your humble servant's has written 
a tract, now in the press, to prove polygamy a divine 
institution ! l A plurality of wives is intended, but 
not of husbands. The end proposed by the author 
is to remedy the prevailing practice of seduction, by 
making the female delinquent ipso facto the lawful 
wife of the male. An officer of a regiment, part of 
which is quartered here, gave one of the soldiers 
leave to be drunk six weeks, in hopes of curing 
him by satiety : he was drunk six weeks, and is 
so still, as often as he can find an opportunity. One 
vice may swallow up another, but no coroner in the 
state of Ethics ever brought in his verdict, when a 
vice died, that it was -felo de se. 

They who value the man are sorry for his book : 
the rest say, 

Solvuntur risu tabula, tu missus abibis. 
Thanks for all you have done, and all you intend ; 
the biography will be particularly welcome. Yours, 

W. C. 

XXVI 

To Mrs. Newton. 

March 4, 1780. 

DEAR MADAM, 

To communicate surprise is almost, perhaps quite, 
as agreeable as to receive it. This is my present motive 

1 The work referred to is Thelyphthora, by the Rev. Martin 
Madan, a cousin of the poet. In his correspondence Cowper often 
recurred to the topic. 



1780] TO MRS. NEWTON 49 

for writing to you rather than to Mr. Newton. He 
would be pleased with hearing from me, but he would 
not be surprised at it ; you see, therefore, I am selfish 
upon the present occasion, and principally consult my 
own gratification. Indeed, if I consulted yours, I 
should be silent, for I have no such budget as the 
minister's furnished and stuffed with ways and means 
for every emergency, and shall find it difficult, perhaps, 
to raise supplies even for a short epistle. 

You have observed in common conversation, that 
the man who coughs and blows his nose the oftenest, 
(I mean if he has not a cold,) does it because he has 
nothing to say. Even so it is in letter-writing : a 
long preface, such as mine, is an ugly symptom, and 
always forebodes great sterility in the following pages. 

The vicarage-house became a melancholy object, 
as soon as Mr. Newton had left it ; when you left it, it 
become more melancholy : now it is actually occupied 
by another family, even I cannot look at it without 
being shocked. As I walked in the garden this even- 
ing, I saw the smoke issue from the study chimney, 
and said to myself, that used to be a sign that Mr. 
Newton was there ; but it is so no longer. The walls 
of the house know nothing of the change that has 
taken place ; the bolt of the chamber- door sounds 
just as it used to do; and when Mr. Page goes up- 
stairs, for aught I know, or ever shall know, the 
fall of his foot could hardly, perhaps, be distinguished 
from that of Mr. Newton. But Mr. Newton's foot 
will never be heard upon that staircase again. These 

VOL. I E 



50 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1780 

reflections, and such as these, occurred to me upon 
the occasion, and though in many respects I have no 
more sensibility left than there is in brick and mortar, 
yet I am not permitted to be quite unfeeling upon this 
subject. If I were in a condition to leave Olney too, 
I certainly would not stay in it. It is no attachment 
to the place that binds me here, but an unfitness for 
every other. I lived in it once, but now I am buried 
in it, and have no business with the world on the 
outside of my sepulchre ; my appearance would startle 
them, and theirs would be shocking to me. 

Such are my thoughts about the matter. Others 
are more deeply affected, and by more weighty con- 
siderations, having been many years the objects of a 
ministry which they had reason to account themselves 
happy in the possession of; they fear they shall find 
themselves great sufferers by the alteration that has 
taken place ; they would have had reason to fear it in 
any case. But Mr. Newton's successor does not bring 
with him the happiest presages, so that in the present 
state of things they have double reason for their fears. 
Though I can never be the better for Mr. Page, Mr. 
Page shall never be the worse for me. If his conduct 
should even justify the worst apprehensions that have 
been formed of his character, it is no personal concern 
of mine. But this I can venture to say, that if he is 
not spotless, his spots will be seen, and the plainer, 
because he comes after Mr. Newton. 

We were concerned at your account of Robert, and 
have little doubt but he will shuffle himself out of his 



1780] TO MRS. NEWTON 51 

place. Where he will find another, is a question not 
to be resolved by those who recommended him to this. 
I wrote him a long letter, a day or two after the 
receipt of yours, but I am afraid it was only clapping 
a blister upon the crown of a wig-block. 

My respects attend Mr. Newton and yourself, ac- 
companied with much affection for you both. Yours, 
dear Madam, ^ 

XXVII 

To the Rev. John Newton. 

March 18, 1780. 
I am obliged to you for the communication of your 

correspondence with . It was impossible for any 

man, of any temper whatever, and however wedded to 
his own purpose, to resent so gentle and friendly an 
exhortation as you sent him. Men of lively imagina- 
tions are not often remarkable for solidity of judgement. 
They have generally strong passions to bias it, and are 
led far away from their proper road, in pursuit of 
pretty phantoms of their own creating. No law ever 
did or can effect what he has ascribed to that of 
Moses ; it is reserved for Mercy to subdue the corrupt 
inclinations of mankind, which threatenings and 
penalties, through the depravity of the heart, have 
always had a tendency rather to inflame. 

The love of power seems as natural to kings, as 
the desire of liberty is to their subjects ; the excess 
of either is vicious, and tends to the ruin of both. 



5 2 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1780 

There are many, I believe, who wish the present 
corrupt state of things dissolved, in hope that the pure 
primitive constitution will spring up from the ruins. 
But it is not for man by himself man, to bring order 
out of confusion ; the progress from one to the other 
is not natural, much less necessary, and without the 
intervention of divine aid, impossible ; and they who 
are for making the hazardous experiment, would cer- 
tainly find themselves disappointed. Affectionately 
yours, w c 



XXVIII 

To the Rev. John Newton. 

OLNEY, April 16, 1780. 

Since I wrote my last we have had a visit from 
. I did not feel myself vehemently disposed 



to receive him with that complaisance, from which a 
stranger generally infers that he is welcome. By his 
manner, which was rather bold than easy, I judged 
that there was no occasion for it, and that it was a 
trifle which, if he did not meet with, neither would he 
feel the want of. fie has the air of a travelled man, 
but not of a travelled gentleman ; is quite delivered 
from that reserve which is so common an ingredient 
in the English character, yet does not open himself 
gently and gradually, as men of polite behaviour do, 
but bursts upon you all at once. He talks very loud, 
and when our poor little robins hear a great noise, 



1780] TO THE REV. JOHN NEWTON 53 

they are immediately seized with an ambition to sur- 
pass it ; the increase of their vociferation occasioned an 
increase of his, and his in return acted as a stimulus 
upon theirs ; neither side entertained a thought of 
giving up the contest, which became continually more 
interesting to our ears, during the whole visit. The 
birds, however, survived it, and so did we. They 
perhaps flatter themselves they gained a complete 
victory, but I believe Mr. - could have killed 
them both in another hour. ~, 



XXIX 

To the Rev, John Newton. 

May 3, 1780. 

DEAR SIR, 

You indulge me in such a variety of subjects, and 
allow me such a latitude of excursion in this scribbling 
employment, that I have no excuse for silence. I am 
much obliged to you for swallowing such boluses as I 
send you, for the sake of my gilding, and verily 
believe that I am the only man alive, from whom they 
would be welcome to a palate like yours. I wish I 
could make them more splendid than they are, more 
alluring to the eye, at least, if not more pleasing 
to the taste ; but my leaf gold is tarnished, and has 
received such a tinge from the vapours that are ever 
brooding over my mind, that I think it no small proof 
of your partiality to me, that you will read my letters. 
I am not fond of longwinded metaphors ; I have 



54 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1780 

always observed, that they halt at the latter end of 
their progress, and so do mine. I deal much in ink 
indeed, but not such ink as is employed by poets, and 
writers of essays. Mine is a harmless fluid, and guilty 
of no deceptions but such as may prevail without the 
least injury to the person imposed on. I draw moun- 
tains, valleys, woods, and streams, and ducks, and 
dab-chicks. I admire them myself, and Mrs. Unwin 
admires them ; and her praise, and my praise put 
together, are fame enough for me. O ! I could spend 
whole days and moonlight nights in feeding upon a 
lovely prospect ! My eyes drink the rivers as they 
flow. If every human being upon earth could think 
for one quarter of an hour as I have done for many 
years, there might perhaps be many miserable men 
among them, but not an unawakened one could be 
found from the arctic to the antarctic circle. At 
present, the difference between them and me is greatly 
to their advantage. I delight in baubles, and know 
them to be so ; for rested in, and viewed without a 
reference to their Author, what is the earth, what are 
the planets, what is the sun itself but a bauble? 
Better for a man never to have seen them, or to see 
them with the eyes of a brute, stupid and unconscious 
of what he beholds, than not to be able to say, " The 
Maker of all these wonders is my friend ! " Their 
eyes have never been opened, to see that they are 
trifles ; mine have been, and will be till they are closed 
for ever. They think a fine estate, a large conserva- 
tory, a hothouse rich as a West Indian garden, things 



1780] TO THE REV. JOHN NEWTON 55 

of consequence ; visit them with pleasure, and muse 
upon them with ten times more. I am pleased with a 
frame of four lights, doubtful whether the few pines 
it contains will ever be worth a farthing ; amuse myself 
with a greenhouse which Lord Bute's gardener could 
take upon his back, and walk away with ; and when 
I have paid it the accustomed visit, and watered it, 
and given it air, I say to myself " This is not mine, 
it is a plaything lent me for the present; I must 
leave it soon." -. 



XXX 

To the Rev. William Unwin. 

May 8, 1780. 

MY DEAR FRIEND, 

My scribbling humour has of late been entirely 
absorbed in the passion for landscape drawing. It 
is a most amusing art, and like every other art, 
requires much practice and attention. 

Nil sine multo 
Vita labors dedit mortalibus. 

Excellence is providentially placed beyond the reach 
of indolence, that success may be the reward of 
industry, and that idleness may be punished with 
obscurity and disgrace. So long as I am pleased with 
an employment, I am capable of unwearied applica- 
tion, because my feelings are all of the intense kind. 
I never received a little pleasure from any thing in 



56 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1780 

my life ; if I am delighted, it is in the extreme. The 
unhappy consequence of this temperature is, that my 
attachment to any occupation seldom outlives the 
novelty of it. That nerve of my imagination that 
feels the touch of any particular amusement, twangs 
under the energy of the pressure with so much vehem- 
ence, that it soon becomes sensible of weariness 
and fatigue. Hence I draw an unfavourable pro- 
gnostic, and expect that I shall shortly be constrained 
to look out for something else. Then perhaps I may 
string the lyre again, and be able to comply with your 
demand. 

Now for the visit you propose to pay us, and propose 
not to pay us ; the hope of which plays about upon 
your paper, like a jack-o-lantern upon the ceiling. This 
is no mean simile, for Virgil (you remember) uses it. 
It is here, it is there, it vanishes, it returns, it dazzles 
you, a cloud interposes, and it is gone. However 
just the comparison, I hope you will contrive to spoil 
it, and that your final determination will be to come. 
As to the masons you expect, bring them with you ; 
bring brick, bring mortar, bring every thing that 
would oppose itself to your journey; all shall be 
welcome. I have a greenhouse that is too small, come 
and enlarge it ; build me a pinery ; repair the garden 
wall, that has great need of your assistance ; do any 
thing ; you cannot do too much ; so far from thinking 
you and your train troublesome, we shall rejoice to 
see you, upon these or upon any other terms you can 
propose. But to be serious, you will do well to 



1780] TO THE REV. WILLIAM UN WIN 57 

consider that a long summer is before you ; that the 
party will not have such another opportunity to meet 
this great while; that you may finish your masonry 
long enough before winter, though you should not 
begin this month, but that you cannot always find 
your brother and sister Powley at Olney. These, 
and some other considerations, such as the desire we 
have to see you, and the pleasure we expect from 
seeing you all together, may, and, I think, ought to 
overcome your scruples. 

From a general recollection of Lord Clarendon's 
History of the Rebellion, I thought (and I remember 
I told you so) that there was a striking resemblance 
between that period and the present. But I am now 
reading, and have read three volumes of Hume's 
History, one of which is engrossed entirely by that 
subject. There I see reason to alter my opinion, and 
the seeming resemblance has disappeared upon a 
more particular information. Charles succeeded to 
a long train of arbitrary princes, whose subjects had 
tamely acquiesced in the despotism of their masters, 
till their privileges were all forgot. He did but tread 
in their steps, and exemplify the principles in which 
he had been brought up, when he oppressed his 
people. But just at that time, unhappily for the 
monarch, the subject began to see, and to see that 
he had a right to property and freedom. This marks 
a sufficient difference between the disputes of that day 
and the present. But there was another main cause 
of that rebellion, which at this time does not operate 



58 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1780 

at all. The king was devoted to the hierarchy ; his 
subjects were puritans and would not bear it. Every 
circumstance of ecclesiastical order and discipline was 
an abomination to them, and in his esteem an indis- 
pensable duty. And though at last he was obliged to 
give up many things, he would not abolish episcopacy ; 
and till that were done his concessions could have no 
conciliating effect. These two concurring causes were 
indeed sufficient to set three kingdoms in a flame. 
But they subsist not now, nor any other, I hope, not- 
withstanding the bustle made by the patriots, equal 
to the production of such terrible events. Yours, my 
dear friend, -^ /- 



XXXI 

To Mrs. Cowper. 

May 10, 1780. 

MY DEAR COUSIN, 

I do not write to comfort you ; that office is not 
likely to be well performed by one who has no comfort 
for himself; nor to comply with an impertinent cere- 
mony, which in general might well be spared upon 
such occasions ; but because I would not seem in- 
different to the concerns of those I have so much 
reason to esteem and love. If I did not sorrow for 
your brother's death, I should expect that nobody 
would for mine ; when I knew him, he was much 
beloved, and I doubt not continued to be so. To 



1780] TO MRS. COW PER 59 

live and die together is the lot of a few happy families, 
who hardly know what a separation means, and one 
sepulchre serves them all ; but the ashes of our 
kindred are dispersed indeed. Whether the American 
gulf has swallowed up any other of my relations, I 
know not ; it has made many mourners. 

Believe me, my dear cousin, though after a long 
silence, which perhaps nothing less than the present 
concern could have prevailed with me to interrupt, as 
much as ever, your affectionate kinsman, 

W. C. 

XXXII 

To the Rev. John Newton. 

May 10, 1780. 

MY DEAR FRIEND, 

If authors could have lived to adjust and authenti- 
cate their own text, a commentator would have been 
an useless creature. For instance if Dr. Bentley 
had found, or opined that he had found, the word 
tube, where it seemed to present itself to you, and 
had judged the subject worthy of his critical acumen, 
he would either have justified the corrupt reading, or 
have substituted some invention of his own, in defence 
of which he would have exerted all his polemical 
abilities, and have quarrelled with half the literati in 
Europe. Then suppose the writer himself, as in the 
present case, to interpose with a gentle whisper thus 
"If you look again, Doctor, you will perceive that 



60 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1780 

what appears to you to be tube, is neither more nor 
less than the simple monosyllable ink, but I wrote it 
in great haste, and the want of sufficient precision in 
the character has occasioned your mistake : you will be 
especially satisfied when you see the sense elucidated 
by the explanation." But I question whether the 
doctor would quit his ground, or allow any author to 
be a competent judge in his own case. The world, 
however, would acquiesce immediately, and vote the 
critic useless. 

James Andrews, who is my Michael Angelo, pays 
me many compliments on my success in the art of 
drawing, but I have not yet the vanity to think myself 
qualified to furnish your apartment. If I should ever 
attain to the degree of self-opinion requisite to such 
an undertaking, I shall labour at it with pleasure. I 
can only say, though I hope not with the affected 
modesty of the above-mentioned Dr. Bentley, who 
said the same thing, 

Me quoque dicunt 
Vatem pas tores, Sed nan Ego credulus illis, 

A crow, rook, or raven, has built a nest in one of 
the young elm trees, at the side of Mrs. Aspray's 
orchard. In the violent storm that blew yesterday 
morning, I saw it agitated to a degree that seemed to 
threaten its immediate destruction, and versified the 
following thoughts upon the occasion. 1 ,y p 

1 Cowper's Fable of the Raven concluded this letter. R. 
SOUTHEY. 



1780] TO MRS. NEWTON 61 

XXXIII 

To Mrs. Newton. 

June, 1780. 

DEAR MADAM, 

When I write to Mr. Newton, he answers me by 
letter ; when I write to you, you answer me in fish. 
I return you many thanks for the mackerel and 
lobster. They assured me in terms as intelligible as 
pen and ink could have spoken, that you still re- 
member Orchardside ; and though they never spoke 
in their lives, and it was still less to be expected from 
them that they should speak, being dead, they gave 
us an assurance of your affection that corresponds 
exactly with that which Mr. Newton expresses towards 
us in all his letters. For my own part, I never in my 
life began a letter more at a venture than the present. 
It is possible that I may finish it, but perhaps more 
than probable that I shall not. I have had several 
indifferent nights, and the wind is easterly; two cir- 
cumstances so unfavourable to me in all my occupa- 
tions, but especially that of writing, that it was with 
the greatest difficulty I could even bring myself to 
attempt it. 

You have never yet perhaps been made acquainted 
with the unfortunate Tom Freeman's misadventure. 
He and his wife returning from Hanslip fair, were 
coming down Weston Lane ; to wit, themselves, their 
horse, and their great wooden panniers, at ten o'clock 
at night. The horse having a lively imagination, and 



62 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1780 

very weak nerves, fancied he either saw or heard 
something, but has never been able to say what. A 
sudden fright will impart activity, and a momentary 
vigour, even to lameness itself. Accordingly, he 
started, and sprung from the middle of the road to 
the side of it, with such surprising alacrity, that he 
dismounted the gingerbread baker and his gingerbread 
wife in a moment. Not contented with this effort, 
nor thinking himself yet out of danger, he proceeded 
as fast as he could to a full gallop, rushed against the 
gate at the bottom of the lane, and opened it for him- 
self, without perceiving that there was any gate there. 
Still he galloped, and with a velocity and momentum 
continually increasing, till he arrived in Olney. I had 
been in bed about ten minutes, when I heard the 
most uncommon and unaccountable noise that can be 
imagined. It was, in fact, occasioned by the clattering 
of tin pattypans and a Dutch-oven against the sides 
of the panniers. Much gingerbread was picked up in 
the street, and Mr. Lucy's windows were broken all 
to pieces. Had this been all, it would have been a 
comedy, but we learned the next morning, that the 
poor woman's collar-bone was broken, and she has 
hardly been able to resume her occupation since. 

What is added on the other side, if I could have 
persuaded myself to write sooner, would have reached 
you sooner ; 'tis about ten days old. 1 

" The Doves." 

1 Here followed Cowper's poem, The Doves. 



1780] TO MRS. NEWTON 63 

The male Dove was smoking a pipe, and the 
female Dove was sewing, while she delivered herself 
as above. This little circumstance may lead you 
perhaps to guess what pair I had in my eye. Yours, 
dear Madam, WM> 



XXXIV 

To the Rev. William Unwin. 

June 8, 1780. 

MY DEAR FRIEND, 

It is possible I might have indulged myself in the 
pleasure of writing to you, without waiting for a letter 
from you, but for a reason which you will not easily 
guess. Your mother communicated to me the satis- 
faction you expressed in my correspondence, that you 
thought me entertaining and clever, and so forth : 
now you must know, I love praise dearly, especially 
from the judicious, and those who have so much 
delicacy themselves as not to offend mine in giving 
it. But then, I found this consequence attending, or 
likely to attend the eulogium you bestowed ; if my 
friend thought me witty before, he shall think me ten 
times more witty hereafter; where I joked once, I 
will joke five times, and for one sensible remark I will 
send him a dozen. Now this foolish vanity would 
have spoiled me quite, and would have made me as 
disgusting a letter-writer as Pope, who seems to have 
thought that unless a sentence was well turned, and 



64 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1780 

every period pointed with some conceit, it was not 
worth the carriage. Accordingly he is to me, except 
in very few instances, the most disagreeable maker of 
epistles that ever I met with. I was willing, therefore, 
to wait till the impression your commendation had 
made upon the foolish part of me was worn off, that 
I might scribble away as usual, and write my upper- 
most thoughts, and those only. 

You are better skilled in ecclesiastical law than I 
am. Mrs. Powley desires me to inform her, whether 
a parson can be obliged to take an apprentice. For 
some of her husband's opposers at Dewsbury threaten 
to clap one upon him. Now I think it would be 
rather hard, if clergymen, who are not allowed to 
exercise any handicraft whatever, should be subject 
to such an imposition. If Mr. Powley was a cord- 
wainer, or a breeches-maker, all the week, and a 
preacher only on Sundays, it would seem reasonable 
enough, in that case, that he should take an apprentice, 
if he chose it. But even then, in my poor judgement, 
he ought to be left to his option. If they mean by 
an apprentice, a pupil, whom they will oblige him to 
hew into a parson, and after chipping away the block 
that hides the minister within^ to qualify him to stand 
erect in a pulpit, that indeed is another considera- 
tion. But still, we live in a free country, and I cannot 
bring myself even to suspect that an English divine 
can possibly be liable to such compulsion. Ask your 
uncle, however ; for he is wiser in these things than 
either of us. 



1780] TO THE REV. WILLIAM UNWIN 65 

I thank you for your two inscriptions, and like the 
last the best; the thought is just and fine, but the 
two last lines are sadly damaged by the monkish 
jingle Qtpeperit and reperit. I have not yet translated 
them, nor do I promise to do it, though at some idle 
hour perhaps I may. In return, I send you a trans- 
lation of a simile in the Paradise Lost. Not having 
that poem at hand, I cannot refer you to the book 
and page, but you may hunt for it, if you think it 
worth your while. It begins 

" So when, from mountain tops, the dusky clouds 
Ascending," &c. 

Qttales derii mentis de vertice mtbes 

Cum surgunt, et jam Borea tumida ora quirunt. 

Cesium hilares abdit, spissd caligine, vultus : 

Turn sijucundo tandem sol prodeat ore, 

Et croceo monies et pascua lumine tingat, 

Gaudent omnta, aves mukent concentibus agros, 

Balatuque ovium cottes, vallesque resultant. 

If you spy any fault in my Latin, tell me, for I am 
sometimes in doubt ; but, as I told you when you was 
here, I have not a Latin book in the world to consult, 
or correct a mistake by ; and some years have passed 
since I was a schoolboy. 

An English Versification of a Thought that popped into my Head 
about two Months since. 

Sweet stream ! that winds through yonder glade 
Apt emblem of a virtuous maid ! 
Silent, and chaste, she steals along, 
Far from the world's gay, busy throng ; 
With gentle, yet prevailing force, 
Intent upon he; destin'd course : 
VOL. I F 



66 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1780 

Graceful, and useful, all she does, 
Blessing, and bless'd, where'er she goes : 
Pure-bosom'd, as that watery glass, 
And Heaven reflected in her face ! 

Now this is not so exclusively applicable to a 
maiden, as to be the sole property of your sister 
Shuttleworth. If you look at Mrs. Unwin, you will 
see that she has not lost her right to this just praise 
by marrying you. 

Your mother sends her love to all, and mine comes 
jogging along by the side of it. Yours, - p 



XXXV 

To the Rev. William Unwin. 

June 22, 1780. 

MY DEAR FRIEND, 

A word or two in answer to two or three questions 
of yours, which I have hitherto taken no notice of. I 
am not in a scribbling mood, and shall therefore make 
no excursions to amuse either myself or you. The 
needful will be as much as I can manage at present ; 
the playful must wait for another opportunity. 

I thank you for your offer of Robertson ; but I have 
than reading upon my hands at this present writing 
more I shall get rid of in a twelvemonth : and this 
moment recollect that I have seen it already. He is 
an author that I admire much, with one exception, 
that I think his style is too laboured. Hume, as an 
historian, pleases me more. 



1780] TO THE REV. WILLIAM UNWIN 67 

I have read just enough of the Biographica Britan- 
nica, to say, that I have tasted it, and have no doubt 
but I shall like it. I am pretty much in the garden 
at this season of the year, so read but little. In 
summer-time I am as giddy-headed as a boy, and can 
settle to nothing. Winter condenses me, and makes 
me lumpish and sober ; and then I can read all day 
long. 

For the same reasons, I have no need of the land- 
scapes at present; when I want them I will renew 
my application, and repeat the description, but it will 
hardly be before October. 

I congratulate you upon a duplicate of Ramsden's. 
As your charge is become twofold, may your satisfac- 
tion be so too. Mine is sure to be doubled, because 
you have promised me a present of salmon. 

Before I arose this morning, I composed the three 
following stanzas; I send them because I like them 
pretty well myself; and if you should not, you must 
accept this handsome compliment as an amends for 
their deficiencies. You may print the lines, if you 
judge them worth it. 1 

I have only time to add love, etc., and my two 

initials. ,,,. ~ 

W. C. 

1 Verses on the burning of Lord Mansfield's library, etc. 
R. SOUTHEY. 



68 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1780 

XXXVI 

To the Rev. John Newton. 

June 23, 1780. 

MY DEAR FRIEND, 

Your reflections upon the state of London, the sins 
and enormities of that great city, while you had a 
distant view of it from Greenwich, seem to have 
been prophetic of the heavy stroke that fell upon it 
just after. 1 Man often prophesies without knowing it ; 
a spirit speaks by him which is not his own, though 
he does not at that time suspect that he is under the 
influence of any other. Did he foresee what is always 
foreseen by Him who dictates what he supposes to be 
his own, he would suffer by anticipation, as well as 
by consequence ; and wish perhaps as ardently for the 
happy ignorance, ta which he is at present so much 
indebted, as some have foolishly and inconsiderately 
done for a knowledge that would be but another 
name for misery. 

And why have I said all this ? especially to you, 
who have hitherto said it to me : not because I had 
the least desire of informing a wiser man than myself, 
but because the observation was naturally suggested 

1 The reference no doubt is to the riots headed by Lord George 
Gordon, which began on June 2, 1780, and lasted for several days. 
In his Speech at Bristol previous to the Election, delivered that year, 
Burke refers to the ' ' desperate attempt, which would have con- 
sumed all the glory and power of this country in the flames of 
London ; and buried all law, order, and religion, under the ruins 
of the metropolis of the Protestant world." The riots are vividly 
described by Dickens in Barnaby Rudge. 



1780] TO THE REV. JOHN NEWTON 69 

by the recollection of your letter, and that letter, 
though not the last, happened to be uppermost in my 
mind. I can compare this mind of mine to nothing 
that resembles it more, than to a board that is under 
the carpenter's plane, (I mean while I am writing to 
you,) the shavings are my uppermost thoughts ; after 
a few strokes of the tool, it acquires a new surface ; 
this again, upon a repetition of his task, he takes off, 
and a new surface still succeeds : whether the shavings 
of the present day will be worth your acceptance, I 
know not ; I am unfortunately made neither of cedar 
nor of mahogany, but Truncus ficulnus, inutile lignum 
consequently, though I should be planed till I am as 
thin as a wafer, it will be but rubbish to the last. 

It is not strange that you should be the subject of 
a false report ; for the sword of slander, like that of 
war, devours one as well as another ; and a blameless 
character is particularly delicious to its unsparing 
appetite. But that you should be the object of such 
a report, you who meddle less with the designs of 
government than almost any man that lives under it, 
this is strange indeed. It is well, however, when they 
who account it good sport to traduce the reputation 
of another, invent a story that refutes itself. I wonder 
they do not always endeavour to accommodate their 
fiction to the real character of the person ; their tale 
would then at least have an air of probability, and it 
might cost a peaceable good man much more trouble 
to disprove it. But perhaps it would not be easy to 
discern what part of your conduct lies more open to 



70 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1780 

such an attempt than another ; or what it is that you 
either say or do, at any time, that presents a fair 
opportunity to the most ingenious slanderer, to slip in 
a falsehood between your words, or actions, that shall 
seem to be of a piece with either. You hate compli- 
ment, I know; but by your leave this is not one it 
is a truth : worse and worse ! now I have praised you 
indeed well, you must thank yourself for it ; it was 
absolutely done without the least intention on my part, 
and proceeded from a pen that, as far as I can remem- 
ber, was never guilty of flattery since I knew how to 
hold it. He that slanders me, paints me blacker than 
I am; and he that flatters me, whiter they both 
daub me ; and when I look in the glass of conscience, I 
see myself disguised by both : I had as lief my tailor 
should sew gingerbread -nuts on my coat instead of 
buttons, as that any man should call my Bristol stone 
a diamond. The tailor's trick would not at all 
embellish my suit, nor the flatterers make me at all 
the richer. I never make a present to my friend, of 
what I dislike myself. Ergo, (I have reached the 
conclusion at last,) I did not mean to flatter you. 

We have sent a petition to Lord Dartmouth, by 
this post, praying him to interfere in parliament in 
behalf of the poor lace-makers. I say we, because 

I have signed it; Mr. G. drew it up, Mr. did 

not think it grammatical, therefore he would not sign 
it. Yet I think Priscian himself would have pardoned 
the manner for the sake of the matter. I dare say if 
his lordship does not comply with the prayer of it, it 



1780] TO THE REV. JOHN NEWTON 71 

will not be because he thinks it of more consequence 
to write grammatically, than that the poor should eat, 
but for some better reason. My love to all under 
your roof. Yours, 



XXXVII 

To the Rev. William Unwin. 

July 2, 1780. 

Carissime, I am glad of your confidence, and have 
reason to hope I shall never abuse it. If you trust 
me with a secret, I am hermetically sealed ; and if you 
call for the exercise of my judgement, such as it is, I 
am never freakish or wanton in the use of it, much 
less mischievous and malignant. Critics, I believe, 
do not often stand so clear of these vices as I do. I 
like your epitaph, except that I doubt the propriety 
of the word immaturus; which, I think, is rather 
applicable to fruits than flowers ; and except the last 
pentameter, the assertion it contains being rather too 
obvious a thought to finish with : not that I think an 
epitaph should be pointed like an epigram. But still 
there is a closeness of thought and expression neces- 
sary in the conclusion of all these little things, that 
they may leave an agreeable flavour upon the palate. 
Whatever is short, should be nervous, masculine, and 
compact. Little men are so ; and little poems should 
be so ; because, where the work is short, the author 
has no right to the plea of weariness ; and laziness is 



72 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1780 

never admitted as an available excuse in any thing. 
Now you know my opinion, you will very likely im- 
prove upon my improvement, and alter my alterations 
for the better. To touch and retouch is, though some 
writers boast of negligence, and others would be 
ashamed to show their foul copies, the secret of 
almost all good writing, especially in verse. I am 
never weary of it myself; and if you would take as 
much pains as I do, you would have no need to ask 
for my corrections. 

Hie sepultus est 

Inter suorum lacrymas 

GULIELMUS NORTHCOT, 

GULIELMI et MARUEjittus 

Unieus, unice dilectus, 

Quifloris ritu succisus est semihiantis, 

Aprilis die septimo, 

1780, st. 10. 

Care, vale ! Sed non aternum, care, valeto ! 

Namque iterum tecum, sim modb dignus era : 
Turn nihil amplexus poterit divellere nostros, 

Nee tu marcesces, nee lacrymabor ego. 

Having an English translation of it by me, I send 
it, though it may be of no use. 

Farewell ! " but not for ever," Hope replies, 
" Trace but his steps, and meet him in the skies ! " 
There nothing shall renew our parting pain, 
Thou shall not wither, nor I weep again ! 

The stanzas that I sent you are maiden ones, having 
never been seen by any eye but your mother's and 
your own. 

If you send me franks, I shall write longer letters 
Valete, sicut et nos valemus I Amate, sicut et nos 
amamus. 



1780] TO THE REV. JOHN NEWTON 73 



XXXVIII 

To the Rev. John Neivton. 

July 12, 1780. 

Mv DEAR FRIEND, 

Such nights as I frequently spend, are but a 
miserable prelude to the succeeding day, and indis- 
pose me, above all things, to the business of writing. 
Yet with a pen in my hand, if I am able to write at 
all, I find myself gradually relieved ; and as I am 
glad of any employment that may serve to engage my 
attention, so especially I am pleased with an oppor- 
tunity of conversing with you, though it be but upon 
paper. This occupation above all others assists me 
in that self-deception to which I am indebted for all 
the little comfort I enjoy ; things seem to be as they 
were, and I almost forget that they never can be so 
again. 

We are both obliged to you for a sight of Mr. 's 

letter. The friendly and obliging manner of it will 
much enhance the difficulty of answering it. I think 
I can see plainly that though he does not hope for 
your applause, he would gladly escape your censure. 
He seems to approach you smoothly and softly, and 
to take you gently by the hand, as if he bespoke 
your lenity, and entreated you at least to spare him. 
You have such skill in the management of your pen, 
that I doubt not you will be able to send him a balmy 
reproof that shall give him no reason to complain of a 



74 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1780 

broken head. How delusive is the wildest speculation 
when pursued with eagerness, and nourished with such 
arguments as the perverted ingenuity of such a mind 
as his can easily furnish ! Judgement falls asleep 
upon the bench, while Imagination, like a smug, pert 
counsellor, stands chattering at the bar, and with a 
deal of fine-spun, enchanting sophistry, carries all 
before him. 

If I had strength of mind, I have not strength of 
body for the task which, you say, some would impose 
upon me. I cannot bear much thinking. The meshes 
of that fine network, the brain, are composed of such 
mere spinners' threads in me, that when a long thought 
finds its way into them, it buzzes, and twangs, and 
bustles about at such a rate as seems to threaten the 
whole contexture. No I must needs refer it again 
to you. 

My enigma will probably find you out, and you will 
find out my enigma at some future time. I am not in 
a humour to transcribe it now. Indeed I wonder that 
a sportive thought should ever knock at the door of 
my intellects, and still more that it should gain admit- 
tance. It is as if harlequin should intrude himself 
into the gloomy chamber where a corpse is deposited 
in state. His antic gesticulations would be unseason- 
able at any rate, but more especially so if they should 
distort the features of the mournful attendants into 
laughter. But the mind long wearied with the same- 
ness of a dull, dreary prospect, will gladly fix its eyes 
on any thing that may make a little variety in its con- 



1780] TO THE REV. JOHN NEWTON 75 

templations, though it were but a kitten playing with 
her tail. 

You would believe, though I did not say it at the 
end of every letter, that we remember you and 
Mrs. Newton with the same affection as ever ; but I 
would not therefore excuse myself from writing what 
it gives you pleasure to read. I have often wished 
indeed, when writing to an ordinary correspondent, 
for the revival of the Roman custom salutem at top, 
and vale at bottom. But as the French have taught 
all Europe to enter a room and to leave it with a most 
ceremonious bow, so they have taught us to begin and 
conclude our letters in the same manner. However 
I can say to you, sans ceremonie. Adieu, mon ami! 

WM. COWPER. 



XXXIX 

To Mrs. Cowper, Park Street, Grosvenor 
Square. 

July 20, 1780. 

MY DEAR COUSIN, 

Mr. Newton having desired me to be of the party, 
I am come to meet him. You see me sixteen years 
older, at the least, than when I saw you last ; but the 
effects of time seem to have taken place rather on the 
outside of my head than within it. What was brown 
is become gray, but what was foolish remains foolish 
still. Green fruit must rot before it ripens, if the 
season is such as to afford it nothing but cold winds 



76 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1780 

and dark clouds, that interrupt every ray of sunshine. 
My days steal away silently, and march on (as poor 
mad King Lear would have made his soldiers march) 
as if they were shod with felt ; not so silently but that 
I hear them ; yet were it not that I am always listen- 
ing to their flight, having no infirmity that I had not 
when I was much younger, I should deceive myself 
with an imagination that I am still young. 

I am fond of writing as an amusement, but do not 
always find it one. Being rather scantily furnished 
with subjects that are good for any thing, and corre- 
sponding only with those who have no relish for such 
as are good for nothing, I often find myself reduced 
to the necessity, the disagreeable necessity, of writing 
about myself. This does not mend the matter much ; 
for though in a description of my own condition, I 
discover abundant materials to employ my pen upon, 
yet as the task is not very agreeable to me, so I am 
sufficiently aware that it is likely to prove irksome to 
others. A painter who should confine himself in the 
exercise of his art to the drawing of his own picture, 
must be a wonderful coxcomb, if he did not soon grow 
sick of his occupation ; and be peculiarly fortunate, 
if he did not make others as sick as himself. 

Remote as your dwelling is from the late scene of 
riot and confusion, 1 1 hope that though you could not 
but hear the report, you heard no more, and that the 
roarings of the mad multitude did not reach you. That 
was a day of terror to the innocent, and the present 
1 See above, p. 68, with the note. 



1780] TO MRS. COW PER 77 

is a day of still greater terror to the guilty. The law 
was for a few moments like an arrow in the quiver, 
seemed to be of no use, and did no execution ; now it 
is an arrow upon the string, and many, who despised it 
lately, are trembling as they stand before the point of it. 
I have talked more already than I have formerly 
done in three visits : you remember my taciturnity, 
never to be forgotten by those who knew me. Not to 
depart entirely from what might be, for aught I know, 
the most shining part of my character, I here shut 
my mouth, make my bow, and return to Olney. 

W. C. 

XL 
To the Rev. William Unwin. 

July 27, 1780. 

MY DEAR FRIEND, 

As two men sit silent, after having exhausted all 
their topics of conversation, one says "It is very 
fine weather," and the other says "Yes;" one 
blows his nose, and the other rubs his eyebrows; 
(by the way, this is very much in Homer's manner,) 
such seems to be the case between you and me. 
After a silence of some days, I wrote you a long 
something, that (I suppose) was nothing to the pur- 
pose, because it has not afforded you materials for an 
answer. Nevertheless, as it often happens in the case 
above-stated, one of the distressed parties, being deeply 
sensible of the awkwardness of a dumb duet, breaks 



78 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1780 

silence again, and resolves to speak, though he has 
nothing to say. So it fares with me ; I am with you 
again in the form of an epistle, though considering my 
present emptiness, I have reason to fear that your 
only joy upon the occasion will be, that it is conveyed 
to you in a frank. 

When I began, I expected no interruption. But if 
I had expected interruptions without end, I should 
have been less disappointed. First came the barber ; 
who, after having embellished the outside of my head, 
has left the inside just as unfurnished as he found it 
Then came Olney bridge, not into the house, but into 
the conversation. The cause relating to it was tried 
on Tuesday at Buckingham. The judge directed the 
jury to find a verdict favourable to Olney. The jury 
consisted of one knave and eleven fools. The last- 
mentioned followed the afore -mentioned, as sheep 
follow a bell-wether, and decided in direct opposition 
to the said judge. Then a flaw was discovered in the 
indictment. The indictment was quashed, and an 
order made for a new trial. The new trial will be in 
the King's Bench, where said knave and said fools 
will have nothing to do with it. So the men of Olney 
fling up their caps, and assure themselves of a com- 
plete victory. A victory will save me and your mother 
many shillings, perhaps some pounds, which, except 
that it has afforded me a subject to write upon, was 
the only reason why I have said so much about it. I 
know you take an interest in all that concerns us, and 
will consequently rejoice with us in the prospect of an 



1780] TO THE REV. WILLIAM UNWIN 79 

event in which we are concerned so nearly. Yours 
affectionately, 



XLI 

To the Rev. John Newton. 

July 30, 1780. 

MY DEAR SIR, 

You may think perhaps that I deal more liberally 
with Mr. Unwin, in the way of poetical export than 
I do with you, and I believe you have reason : the 
truth is this ; If I walked the streets with a fiddle 
under my arm, I should never think of performing 
before the window of a Privy Counsellor, or a Chief 
Justice, but should rather make free with ears more 
likely to be open to such amusement. The trifles I 
produce in this way are indeed such trifles, that I 
cannot think them seasonable presents for you. Mr. 
Unwin himself would not be offended if I was to tell 
him that there is this difference between him and Mr. 
Newton ; that the latter is already an apostle, while 
he himself is only undergoing the business of an in- 
cubation, with a hope that he may be hatched in time. 
When my Muse comes forth arrayed in sables, at least 
in a robe of graver cast, I make no scruple to direct 
her to my friend at Hoxton. This has been one reason 
why I have so long delayed the riddle. But lest I 
should seem to set a value upon it, that I do not, 
by making it an object of still further inquiry, here 
it comes. 



8o LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1780 

I am just two and two, I am warm, I am cold, 
And the parent of numbers that cannot be told ; 
I am lawful, unlawful a duty, a fault ; 
I am often sold dear, good for nothing when bought, 
An extraordinary boon, and a matter of course, 
And yielded with pleasure when taken by force. 

w. c. 



XLII 

To the Rev. William Unwin. 

August 6, 1780. 

MY DEAR FRIEND, 

You like to hear from me : this is a very good 
reason why I should write. But I have nothing to 
say : this seems equally a good reason why I should 
not Yet if you had alighted from your horse at our 
door this morning, and at this present writing, being 
five o'clock in the afternoon, had found occasion to 
say to me " Mr. Cowper, you have not spoke since 
I came in ; have you resolved never to speak again ? " 
it would be but a poor reply, if in answer to the 
summons I should plead inability as my best and 
only excuse. And this by the way suggests to me a 
seasonable piece of instruction, and reminds me of 
what I am very apt to forget, when I have any 
epistolary business in hand, that a letter may be 
written upon any thing or nothing just as that any 
thing or nothing happens to occur. A man that has 
a journey before him twenty miles in length, which 
he is to perform on foot, will not hesitate and doubt 
whether he shall set out or not, because he does not 



1780] TO THE REV. WILLIAM UNWIN 81 

readily conceive how he shall ever reach the end of 
it : for he knows, that by the simple operation of 
moving one foot forward first, and then the other, 
he shall be sure to accomplish it. So it is in the 
present case, and so it is in every similar case. A 
letter is written as a conversation is maintained, or a 
journey performed ; not by preconcerted or premedi- 
tated means, a new contrivance, or an invention never 
heard of before, but merely by maintaining a pro- 
gress, and resolving as a postilion does, having once 
set out, never to stop till we reach the appointed end. 
If a man may talk without thinking, why may he not 
write upon the same terms? A grave gentleman of 
the last century, a tie-wig, square-toe, Steinkirk figure, 
would say " My good sir, a man has no right to do 
either." But it is to be hoped that the present 
century has nothing to do with the mouldy opinions 
of the last ; and so good Sir Launcelot, or Sir Paul, 
or whatever be your name, step into your picture- 
frame again, and look as if you thought for another 
century, and leave us moderns in the mean time to 
think when we can, and to write whether we can or 
not, else we might as well be dead as you are. 

When we look back upon our forefathers, we seem 
to look back upon the people of another nation, 
almost upon creatures of another species. Their vast 
rambling mansions, spacious halls, and painted case- 
ments, the gothic porch smothered with honeysuckles, 
their little gardens and high walls, their box-edgings, 
balls of holly, and yew-tree statues, are become so 

VOL. I G 



82 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1780 

entirely unfashionable now, that we can hardly believe 
it possible, that a people who resembled us so little in 
their taste, should resemble us in any thing else. But 
in every thing else, I suppose, they were our counter- 
parts exactly ; and time, that has sewed up the slashed 
sleeve, and reduced the large trunk hose to a neat 
pair of silk stockings, has left human nature just where 
it found it. The inside of the man at least has under- 
gone no change. His passions, appetites, and aims, 
are just what they ever were. They wear perhaps a 
handsomer disguise than they did in days of yore ; for 
philosophy and literature will have their effect upon 
the exterior \ but in every other respect a modern is 
only an ancient in a different dress. r 



XLIII 

To Joseph Hill, Esq. 

Aug. 10, 1780. 

MY DEAR SIR, 

I greet you at your castle of Buen Retire, and wish 
you could enjoy the unmixt pleasures of the country 
there. But it seems you are obliged to dash the cup 
with a portion of those bitters you are always swallow- 
ing in town. Well you are honourably and usefully 
employed, and ten times more beneficially to society, 
than if you were piping to a few sheep under a 
spreading beech, or listening to a tinkling rill. 
Besides, by the effect of long custom and habitual 



1780] TO JOSEPH HILL, ESQ. 83 

practice, you are not only enabled to endure your 
occupation, but even find it agreeable. I remember 
the time when it would not have suited you so well, 
to have devoted so large a part of your vacation to the 
objects of your profession and you, I dare say, have 
not forgot what a seasonable relaxation you found, 
when, lying at full stretch upon the ruins of an old 
wall, by the sea-side, you amused yourself with Tasso's 
Jerusalem, and the Pastor Fido. I recollect that we 
both pitied Mr. De Grey, when we called at his 
cottage at Taplow, and found, not the master indeed, 
but his desk, with his white-leaved folio upon it, which 
bespoke him as much a man of business in his retire- 
ment as in Westminster Hall. But by these steps 
he ascended the Bench. Now he may read what he 
pleases, and ride where he will, if the gout will give 
him leave. And you who have no gout, and probably 
never will, when your hour of dismission comes, will, 
for that reason, if for no other, be a happier man than 
he. I am, my dear friend, affectionately yours, 

WM. COWPER. 

P.S. Mr. has not thought proper to favour 

me with his book, and having no interest in the sub- 
ject, I have not thought proper to purchase it. Indeed 
I have no curiosity to read what I am sure must be 
erroneous before I read it. Truth is worth every 
thing that can be given for it ; but a mere display of 
ingenuity, calculated only to mislead, is worth nothing. 



84 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1780 

XLIV 

To the Rev. John Newton. 

August 21, 1780. 

The following occurrence ought not to be passed 
over in silence, in a place where so few notable ones are 
to be met with. Last Wednesday night, while we were 
at supper, between the hours of eight and nine, I 
heard an unusual noise in the back parlour, as if one 
of the hares was entangled, and endeavouring to dis- 
engage herself. I was just going to rise from table, 
when it ceased. In about five minutes, a voice on 
the outside of the parlour door inquired if one of my 
hares had got away. I immediately rushed into the 
next room, and found that my poor favourite Puss 
had made her escape. She had gnawed in sunder 
the strings of a lattice work, with which I thought 
I had sufficiently secured the window, and which I 
preferred to any other sort of blind, because it 
admitted plenty of air. From thence I hastened to 
the kitchen, where I saw the redoubtable Thomas 
Freeman, who told me, that having seen her, just 
after she had dropped into the street, he attempted to 
cover her with his hat, but she screamed out, and 
leaped directly over his head. I then desired him to 
pursue as fast as possible, and added Richard Coleman 
to the chase, as being nimbler, and carrying less 
weight than Thomas ; not expecting to see her again, 
but desirous to learn, if possible, what became of her. 



1780] TO THE REV. JOHN NEWTON 85 

In something less than an hour, Richard returned, 
almost breathless, with the following account. That 
soon after he began to run, he left Tom behind him, 
and came in sight of a most numerous hunt of men, 
women, children, and dogs ; that he did his best to 
keep back the dogs, and presently outstripped the 
crowd, so that the race was at last disputed between 
himself and Puss ; she ran right through the town, 
and down the lane that leads to Dropshort ; a little 
before she came to the house, he got the start and 
turned her ; she pushed for the town again, and soon 
after she entered it, sought shelter in Mr. Wagstaff's 
tanyard, adjoining to old Mr. Drake's. Sturges's 
harvest men were at supper, and saw her from the 
opposite side of the way. There she encountered the 
tanpits full of water; and while she was struggling 
out of one pit, and plunging into another, and almost 
drowned, one of the men drew her out by the ears, 
and secured her. She was then well washed in a 
bucket, to get the lime out of her coat, and brought 
home in a sack at ten o'clock. 

This frolic cost us four shillings, but you may 
believe we did not grudge a farthing of it. The poor 
creature received only a little hurt in one of her 
claws, and in one of her ears, and is now almost as 
well as ever. 

I do not call this an answer to your letter, but such 
as it is I send it, presuming upon that interest which 
I know you take in my minutest concerns, which I 
cannot express better than in the words of Terence a 



86 LE TTERS FR OM OLNE Y [ 1 780 

little varied Nihil met a te alienum putas. Yours, 
my dear friend, w .-, 



XLV 

To Mrs. Cowper, Park Street, Grosvenor 
Square. 

August 31, 1780. 

MY DEAR COUSIN, 

I am obliged to you for your long letter, which did 
not seem so ; and for your short one, which was more 
than I had any reason to expect. Short as it was, it 
conveyed to me two interesting articles of intelligence : 
An account of your recovering from a fever, and of 
Lady Cowper's death. The latter was, I suppose, to 
be expected, for by what remembrance I have of her 
ladyship, who was never much acquainted with her, 
she had reached those years that are always found 
upon the borders of another world. As for you, your 
time of life is comparatively of a youthful date. You 
may think of death as much as you please, (you 
cannot think of it too much), but I hope you will 
live to think of it many years. 

It costs me not much difficulty to suppose that my 
friends who were already grown old when I saw them 
last, are old still ; but it costs me a good deal some- 
times to think of those who were at that time young, 
as being older than they were. Not having been an 
eye-witness of the change that time has made in 
them, and my former idea of them not being corrected 



1780] TO MRS. COW PER 87 

by observation, it remains the same; my memory 
presents me with this image unimpaired, and while 
it retains the resemblance of what they were, forgets 
that by this time the picture may have lost much of its 
likeness, through the alteration that succeeding years 
have made in the original. I know not what impres- 
sions Time may have made upon your person, for 
while his claws, (as our grannams called them) strike 
deep furrows in some faces, he seems to sheath them 
with much tenderness, as if fearful of doing injury 
to others. But though an enemy to the person, he 
is a friend to the mind, and you have found him so. 
Though even in this respect his treatment of us 
depends upon what he meets with at our hands ; if 
we use him well, and listen to his admonitions, he is 
a friend indeed, but otherwise the worst of enemies, 
who takes from us daily something that we valued, 
and gives us nothing better in its stead. It is well 
with them who, like you, can stand a tiptoe on the 
mountain top of human life, look down with pleasure 
upon the valley they have passed, and sometimes 
stretch their wings in joyful hope of a happy flight 
into eternity. Yet a little while, and your hope will 
be accomplished. 

When you can favour me with a little account of 
your own family, without inconvenience, I shall be glad 
to receive it ; for though separated from my kindred 
by little more than half a century of miles, I know as 
little of their concerns as if oceans and continents 
were interposed between us. Yours, my dear cousin, 

W C. 



88 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1780 

XLVI 

To the Rev. William Unwin. 

Sept. 3, 1780. 

MY DEAR FRIEND, 

I am glad you are so provident, and that, while 
you are yet young, you have furnished yourself with 
the means of comfort in old age. Your crutch and 
your pipe may be of use to you, (and may they be so,) 
should your years be extended to an antediluvian 
date ; and for your present accommodation, you seem 
to want nothing but a clerk called Snuffle, and a 
sexton of the name of Skeleton, to make your 
ministerial equipage complete. 

I think I have read as much of the first volume 
of the Biographia as I shall ever read. I find it very 
amusing; more so perhaps than it would have been 
had they sifted their characters with more exactness, 
and admitted none but those who had in some way or 
other entitled themselves to immortality, by deserving 
well of the public. Such a compilation would perhaps 
have been more judicious, though I confess it would 
have afforded less variety. The priests and the monks 
of earlier, and the doctors of later days, who have 
signalized themselves by nothing but a controversial 
pamphlet, long since thrown by, and never to be 
perused again, might have been forgotten, without 
injury or loss to the national character for learning 
or genius. This observation suggested to me the 



1780] TO THE REV. WILLIAM UNWIN 89 

following lines, which may serve to illustrate my 
meaning, and at the same time to give my criticism a 
sprightlier air. 

Oh fond attempt, to give a deathless lot 

To names ignoble, born to be forgot ! 

In vain, recorded in historic page, 

They court the notice of a future age ; 

Those twinkling, tiny lustres of the land 

Drop one by one, from Fame's neglecting hand ; 

Lethean gulfs receive them as they fall, 

And dark oblivion soon absorbs them all. 

So when a child (as playful children use) 

Has burnt to cinder a stale last -year's news, 

The flame extinct, he views the roving fire, 

There goes my lady, and there goes the squire, 

There goes the parson O illustrious spark ! 

And there scarce less illustrious goes the clerk ! 

Virgil admits none but worthies into the Elysian 
Fields ; I cannot recollect the lines in which he 
describes them all, but these in particular I well 
remember l 

Quique sui memores alias fecere merendo, 
Inventas aut qtd vitam cxcoluere per artes. 

A chaste and scrupulous conduct like his would well 
become the writer of national biography. But enough 
of this. 

Our respects attend Miss Shuttleworth, with many 
thanks for her intended present. Some purses derive 
all their value from their contents, but these will have 
an intrinsic value of their own : and though mine 
should be often empty, which is not an improbable 
supposition, I shall esteem it highly on its own account. 

1 Virgil, Aeneid, vi. 663 sy. Cowper has inverted the order 
of the two lines. 



90 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1780 

If you could meet with a second-hand Virgil, ditto 
Homer, both Iliad and Odyssey, together with a Clavis, 
for I have no Lexicon, and all tolerably cheap, I shall 
be obliged to you if you will make the purchase. 
Yours, w c 

XLVII 

To the Rev. William Unwin. 

Oct. 5, 1780. 

MY DEAR FRIEND, 

Now for the sequel. You have anticipated one 
of my arguments in favour of a private education, 
therefore I need say but little about it. The folly of 
supposing that the mother-tongue, in some respects the 
most difficult of all tongues, may be acquired without 
a teacher, is predominant in all the public schools that 
I have ever heard of. To pronounce it well, to speak 
and to write it with fluency and elegance, are no easy 
attainments; not one in fifty of those who pass through 
Westminster and Eton, arrive at any remarkable pro- 
ficiency in these accomplishments ; and they that do 
are more indebted to their own study and application 
for it, than to any instruction received there. In 
general, there is nothing so pedantic as the style of 
a schoolboy, if he aims at any style at all; and if 
he does not, he is of course inelegant, and perhaps 
ungrammatical. A defect, no doubt, in great measure 
owing to the want of cultivation ; for the same lad that 
is often commended for his Latin, frequently would 



1780] TO THE REV. WILLIAM UNWIN 91 

deserve to be whipped for his English, if the fault 
were not more his master's than his own. I know not 
where this evil is so likely to be prevented as at home, 
supposing always, nevertheless (which is the case 
in your instance), that the boy's parents, and their 
acquaintance, are persons of elegance and taste them- 
selves. For to converse with those who converse 
with propriety, and to be directed to such authors as 
have refined and improved the language by their pro- 
ductions, are advantages which he cannot elsewhere 
enjoy in an equal degree. And though it requires 
some time to regulate the taste, and fix the judge- 
ment, and these effects must be gradually wrought 
even upon the best understanding, yet I suppose 
much less time will be necessary for the purpose than 
could at first be imagined, because the opportunities 
of improvement are continual. 

I promised to say little on this topic, and I have 
said so much, that if I had not a frank I must burn 
my letter and begin again. 

A public education is often recommended as the 
most effectual remedy for that bashful and awkward 
constraint, so epidemical among the youth of our 
country. But I verily believe that instead of being 
a cure, it is often the cause of it. For seven or eight 
years of his life, the boy has hardly seen or conversed 
with a man, or a woman, except the maids at his 
boarding house. A gentleman or a lady are con- 
sequently such novelties to him that he is perfectly 
at a loss to know what sort of behaviour he should 



92 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1780 

preserve before them. He plays with his buttons, or 
the strings of his hat, he blows his nose, and hangs 
down his head, is conscious of his own deficiency to 
a degree that makes him quite unhappy, and trembles 
lest any one should speak to him, because that would 
quite overwhelm him. Is not all this miserable shy- 
ness evidently the effect of his education ? To me it 
appears to be so. If he saw good company every day, 
he would never be terrified at the sight of it, and a 
room full of ladies and gentlemen would alarm him 
no more than the chairs they sit on. Such is the 
effect of custom. 

I need add nothing further on this subject, because 
I believe little John is as likely to be exempted from 
this weakness as most young gentlemen we shall meet 
with. He seems to have his father's spirit in this 
respect, in whom I could never discern the least trace 
of bashfulness, though I have often heard him complain 
of it. Under your management, and the influence of 
your example, I think he can hardly fail to escape it. 
If he does, he escapes that which makes many a man 
uncomfortable for life ; and has ruined not a few, by 
forcing them into mean and dishonourable company, 
where only they could be free and cheerful. 

Connexions formed at school are said to be lasting, 
and often beneficial. There are two or three stories 
of this kind upon record, which would not be so 
constantly cited as they are, whenever this subject 
happens to be mentioned, if the chronicle that pre- 
serves their remembrance had many besides to boast 



1780] TO THE REV. WILLIAM UNWIN 93 

of. For my own part, I found such friendships, 
though warm enough in their commencement, sur- 
prisingly liable to extinction ; and of seven or eight, 
whom I had selected for intimates out of about three 
hundred, in ten years time not one was left me. The 
truth is, that there may be, and often is, an attach- 
ment of one boy to another, that looks very like a 
friendship ; and while they are in circumstances that 
enable them mutually to oblige and to assist each 
other, promises well, and bids fair to be lasting. But 
they are no sooner separated from each other, by 
entering into the world at large, than other connexions, 
and new employments, in which they no longer share 
together, efface the remembrance of what passed in 
earlier days, and they become strangers to each other 
for ever. Add to this, that the man frequently differs 
so much from the boy, his principles, manners, 
temper, and conduct, undergo so great an altera- 
tion, that we no longer recognise in him our old 
playfellow, but find him utterly unworthy and unfit 
for the place he once held in our affections. 

To close this article as I did the last, by applying 
myself immediately to the present concern, little John 
is happily placed above all occasion for dependence 
upon such precarious hopes, and need not be sent to 
school in quest of some great man in embryo, who 
may possibly make his fortune. Yours, my dear 
friend, 



94 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1780 

XLVIII 

To the Rev. Jo/in Newton. 

Dec. 21, 1780. 

I thank you for your anecdote of Judge Carpenter. 
If it really happened, it is one of the best stories I 
ever heard; and if not, it has at least the merit of 
being ben trovato. We both very sincerely laughed 
at it, and think the whole Livery of London must 
have done the same; though I have known some 
persons whose faces, as if they had been cast in a 
mould, could never be provoked to the least alteration 
of a single feature ; so that you might as well relate a 
good story to a barber's block. 

Non equidem invideo, miror magis. 

Your sentiments with respect to me are exactly 
Mrs. Unwin's. She, like you, is perfectly sure of my 
deliverance, and often tells me so. I make but one 
answer, and sometimes none at all. That answer 
gives her no pleasure, and would give you as little ; 
therefore at this time I suppress it. It is better on 
every account that they who interest themselves so 
deeply in that event, should believe the certainty of it, 
than that they should not. It is a comfort to them at 
least, if it is none to me ; and as I could not, if I would, 
so neither would I, if I could, deprive them of it. 

I annex a long thought in verse for your perusal. 
It was produced about last midsummer, but I never 
could prevail with myself, till now, to transcribe it. 



1780] TO THE REV. JOHN NEWTON 95 

You have bestowed some commendations on a certain 
poem now in the press, and they, I suppose, have at 
least animated me to the task. If human nature may 
be compared to a piece of tapestry, (and why not ?) 
then human nature, as it subsists in me, though it is 
sadly faded on the right side, retains all its colour on 
the wrong. I am pleased with commendation, and 
though not passionately desirous of indiscriminate 
praise, or what is generally called popularity, yet when 
a judicious friend claps me on the back, I own I find 
it an encouragement. At this season of the year, and 
in this gloomy uncomfortable climate, it is no easy 
matter for the owner of a mind like mine, to divert 
it from sad subjects, and fix it upon such as may 
administer to its amusement. Poetry, above all 
things, is useful to me in this respect. While I am 
held in pursuit of pretty images, or a pretty way of 
expressing them, I forget every thing that is irksome, 
and, like a boy that plays truant, determine to avail 
myself of the present opportunity to be amused, and 
to put by the disagreeable recollection that I must, 
after all, go home and be whipt again. 

It will not be long, perhaps, before you will receive 
a poem called the Progress of Error. That will be 
succeeded by another, in due time, called Truth. 
Don't be alarmed. I ride Pegasus with a curb. He 
will never run away with me again. I have even 
convinced Mrs. Unwin that I can manage him, and 
make him stop when I please. Yours, 

WM. COWPER. 



96 LETTERS FROM OLNEV [1780 

XLIX 

To the Rev. William Unwin. 

Dec. 1780. 

MY DEAR FRIEND, 

Poetical reports of law cases are not very common, 
yet it seems to me desirable than they should be so. 
Many advantages would accrue from such a measure. 
They would in the first place be more commodiously 
deposited in the memory, just as linen, grocery, or 
other such matters, when neatly packed, are known to 
occupy less room, and to lie more conveniently in any 
trunk, chest, or box, to which they may be committed. 
In the next place, being divested of that infinite cir- 
cumlocution, and the endless embarrassment in which 
they are involved by it, they would become surpris- 
ingly intelligible, in comparison with their present 
obscurity. And lastly, they would by this means be 
rendered susceptible of musical embellishment, and 
instead of being quoted in the courts, with that dull 
monotony, which is so wearisome to by-standers, and 
frequently lulls even the judges themselves to sleep, 
might be rehearsed in recitative; which would have an 
admirable effect, in keeping the attention fixed and 
lively, and could not fail to disperse that heavy 
atmosphere of sadness and gravity, which hangs over 
the jurisprudence of our country. I remember, many 
years ago, being informed by a relation of mine, who 
in his youth had applied himself to the study of the 



1780] TO THE REV. WILLIAM UNWIN 97 

law, that one of his fellow students, a gentleman of 
sprightly parts, and very respectable talents of the 
poetical kind, did actually engage in the prosecution 
of such a design; for reasons I suppose somewhat 
similar to, if not the same with those I have now 
suggested. He began with Coke's Institutes ; a book 
so rugged in its style, that an attempt to polish it 
seemed an Herculean labour, and not less arduous 
and difficult, than it would be to give the smoothness 
of a rabbit's fur to the prickly back of a hedgehog. 
But he succeeded to admiration, as you will perceive 
by the following specimen, which is all that my said 
relation could recollect of the performance. 

Tenant in fee 

Simple, is he, 
And need neither quake nor quiver, 

Who hath his lands, 

Free from all demands, 
To him and his heirs for ever. 

You have an ear for music, and a taste for verse, 
which saves me the trouble of pointing out with a 
critical nicety the advantages of such a version. I 
proceed therefore to what I at first intended, and 
to transcribe the record of an adjudged case thus 
managed, to which indeed what I have premised was 
intended merely as an introduction. 1 w ^ 

1 This letter concluded with the poetical law case of ' ' Nose, 
plaintiff Eyes, defendants." R. SOUTHEY. 



VOL. I 



98 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1781 



To the Rev. John Newton. 

Jan, 21, 1781. 
MY DEAR SlR, 

I am glad that the Progress of Error did not Err 
in its Progress, as I feared it had; and that it has 
reached you safe; and still more pleased that it has 
met with your approbation ; for if it had not, I should 
have wished it had miscarried, and have been sorry 
that the bearer's memory had served him so well upon 
the occasion. I knew him to be that sort of genius, 
which, being much busied in making excursions of the 
imaginary kind, is not always present to its own imme- 
diate concerns, much less to those of others; and 
having reposed the trust in him, began to regret that 
I had done so, when it was too late. But I did it to 
save a frank, and as the affair has turned out, that end 
was very well answered. This is committed to the 
hands of a less volatile person, and therefore more to 
be depended on. 

As to the poem called Truth, which is already 
longer than its elder brother, and is yet to be length- 
ened by the addition of perhaps twenty lines, perhaps 
more ; I shrink from the thought of transcribing it at 
present. But as there is no need to be in any hurry 
about it, I hope that in some rainy season, which the 
next month will probably bring with it, when perhaps 
I may be glad of employment, the undertaking will 
appear less formidable. 



1781] TO THE REV. JOHN NEWTON 99 

You need not withhold from us any intelligence 
relating to yourselves, upon an apprehension that Mr. 
Raban has been beforehand with you upon those sub- 
jects, for he came down as costive as if you had fed 
him with nothing but quinces, and unless we engineered 
him with question after question, we could get nothing 
out of him. I have known such travellers in my time, 
and Mrs. Newton is no stranger to one of them, who 
keep all their observations and discoveries to them- 
selves, till they are extorted from them by mere dint 
of examination, and cross-examination. He told us 
indeed that some invisible agent supplied you every 
Sunday with a coach, which we were pleased with 
hearing ; and this, I think, was the sum total of his 
information. 

We are much concerned for Mr. Barham's loss; 
but it is well for that gentleman, that those amiable 
features in his character, which most incline one to 
sympathise with him, are the very graces and virtues 
that will strengthen him to bear it with equanimity 
and patience. People that have neither his light nor 
experience, will wonder that a disaster which would 
perhaps have broken their hearts, is not heavy 
enough to make any abatement in the cheerfulness 
of his. 

Your books came yesterday. I shall not repeat to 
you what I said to Mrs. Unwin, after having read two 
or three of the letters. I admire the preface, in which 
you have given an air of novelty to a worn-out topic, 
and have actually engaged the favour of the reader by 



ioo LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1781 

saying those things in a delicate and uncommon way, 
which in general are disgusting. 

I suppose you know that Mr. Scott will be in town 
on Tuesday. He is likely to take possession of the 
Vicarage at last, with the best grace possible ; at least, 
if he and Mr. Browne can agree upon the terms. The 
old gentleman I find would be glad to let the house, 
and abridge the stipend ; in other words to make a 
good bargain for himself, and starve his curate. Yours, 
my dear friend, WM. COWPER. 



LI 
To Joseph Hill, Esq. 

Feb. 15, 1781. 

MY DEAR FRIEND, 

It is possible that Mrs. Hill may not be herself a 
sufferer by the late terrible catastrophe in the Islands ; 1 
but I should suppose by her correspondence with 
those parts, she may be connected with some that 
are. In either case, I condole with her; for it is 
reasonable to imagine that since the first tour that 
Columbus made into the Western world, it never 
before experienced such a convulsion ; perhaps never 
since the foundation of the globe. You say the state 
grows old, and discovers many symptoms of decline. 
A writer, possessed of a genius for hypothesis, like 
that of Burnet, might construct a plausible argument 

1 The most destructive hurricane ever remembered in the West 
Indies. W. BENHAM (who dates the letter February 3). 



1781] TO JOSEPH HILL, ESQ. 101 

to prove that the world itself is in a state of super- 
annuation, if there be such a word. If not, there 
must be such a one as superannuity. When that just 
equilibrium that has hitherto supported all things, 
seems to fail, when the elements burst the chain that 
has bound them, the wind sweeping away the works 
of man, and man himself together with his works, 
and the ocean seeming to overleap the command, 
" Hitherto shalt thou come, and no further, and here 
shall thy proud waves be stayed," these irregular and 
prodigious vagaries seem to bespeak a decay, and fore- 
bode, perhaps, not a very distant dissolution. This 
thought has so run away with my attention, that I 
have left myself no room for the little politics that 
have only Great Britain for their object. Who knows 
but that while a thousand, and ten thousand tongues 
are employed in adjusting the scale of our national 
concerns, in complaining of new taxes, and funds 
loaded with a debt of accumulating millions, the 
consummation of all things may discharge it in a 
moment, and the scene of all this bustle disappear, 
as if it had never been? Charles Fox would say, 
perhaps, he thought it very unlikely. I question if 
he could prove even that. I am sure, however, he 
could not prove it to be impossible. Yours, 

WM. COWPER. 



102 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1781 

LII 

To the Rev. John Newton. 

Feb. 18, 1781. 

MY DEAR FRIEND, 

I send you Table Talk. It is a medley of many 
things, some that may be useful, and some that, for 
aught I know, may be very diverting. I am merry 
that I may decoy people into my company, and grave 
that they may be the better for it. Now and then I 
put on the garb of a philosopher, and take the oppor- 
tunity that disguise procures me, to drop a word in 
favour of religion. In short, there is some froth, and 
here and there a bit of sweet-meat, which seems to 
entitle it justly to the name of a certain dish the ladies 
call a trifle. I did not choose to be more facetious, 
lest I should consult the taste of my readers at the 
expense of my own approbation ; nor more serious 
than I have been, lest I should forfeit theirs. A poet 
in my circumstances has a difficult part to act : one 
minute obliged to bridle his humour, if he has any, 
and the next, to clap a spur to the sides of it : now 
ready to weep from a sense of the importance of his 
subject, and on a sudden constrained to laugh, lest 
his gravity should be mistaken for dulness. If this be 
not violent exercise for the mind, I know not what is ; 
and if any man doubt it, let him try. Whether all 
this management and contrivance be necessary, I do 
not know, but am inclined to suspect that if my Muse 
was to go forth clad in Quaker colour, without one 



1781] TO THE REV. JOHN NEWTON 103 

bit of riband to enliven her appearance, she might 
walk from one end of London to the other, as little 
noticed as if she were one of the sisterhood indeed. 

As to the word you mention, I a little suspected 
that you would object to it, though I really thought 
that a book which cannot be supposed to have been 
written under a blessing, and that has certainly carried 
mischief with it into many families, deserved an epi- 
thet as harsh as that which I had given it. It is a 
bargain however that I have made with my lady Muse, 
never to defend, or stickle for any thing that you 
object to. So the line may stand if you please thus, 

Abhorr'd Thelyphthora, 1 &c. 

you will meet with the obnoxious word again, in the 
copy I send you now, but coupled with a substantive 
of so filthy a character, that I persuade myself you 
will have no objection to the use of it in such a con- 
nexion. I am no friend to the use of words taken 
from what an uncle of mine called the diabolical 
dictionary, but it happens sometimes that a coarse 
expression is almost necessary to do justice to the 
indignation excited by an abominable subject. I am 
obliged to you, however, for your opinion ; and though 
poetry is apt to betray one into a warmth that one is 
not sensible of in writing prose, shall always desire to 
be set down by it. 

We are glad that so able a writer as Mr. Hill has 
taken up the cudgels. He is old enough to know how 

1 See above, p. 48, note. 



104 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1781 

to reason with precision, and young enough to do it 
with fire and spirit. In conflicting with a disputant 
like Mr. Madan, I should suppose these two qualifica- 
tions almost equally necessary. A writer like him, 
who knows how to get the laugh on his side, would 
be pretty secure of having the world on his side 
too, if his adversary had no skill in the use of the 
same weapon. It is such a merry world that Truth 
herself seems to want one of her principal recommen- 
dations, unless she will now and then condescend to 
the prevailing temper of her hearers. But you say 
you think it will do, and therefore I have no doubt 
of it. 

Mr. Scott told Mr. Wilson yesterday or the day 
before, that he had again asked Mr. Raban whether 
or not he intended to continue his speaking, and that 
Mr. Raban would give him no determinate answer. 
This I had from Mr. Wilson himself. It will be well 
if that business ends peaceably. Nothing could be 
more tenderly cogent than your letter to his colleague, 
and he, for aught I know, may be properly influenced 
by it; but it seems plain that either the before- 
mentioned had not seen it, or that if he had, he had 
not felt it. Geary Ball has lost his wife. She was 
buried on Thursday, having left her friends a com- 
fortable hope of her welfare. 

You had been married thirty-one years last Mon- 
day. When you married I was eighteen years of age, 
and had just left Westminster school. At that time, 
I valued a man according to his proficiency and taste 



1781] TO THE REV. JOHN NEWTON 105 

in classical literature, and had the meanest opinion of 
all other accomplishments unaccompanied by that. I 
lived to see the vanity of what I had made my pride, 
and in a few years found that there were other attain- 
ments which would carry a man more handsomely 
through life, than a mere knowledge of what Homer 
and Virgil had left behind them. In measure, as my 
attachment to these gentry wore off, I found a more 
welcome reception among those whose acquaintance 
it was more my interest to cultivate. But all this time 
was spent in painting a piece of wood, that had no 
life in it. At last I began to think indeed; I found 
myself in possession of many baubles, but not one 
grain of solidity in all my treasures. Then I learned 
the truth, and then I lost it ; and there ends my 
history. I would no more than you wish to live such 
a life over again, but for one reason. He that is 
carried to execution, though through the roughest 
road, when he arrives at the destined spot, would be 
glad, notwithstanding the many jolts he met with, to 
repeat his journey. Yours, my dear Sir, with our joint 
love, w c 

LIII 

To the Rev. John Newton. 

March 5, 1781. 

MY DEAR FRIEND, 

Since writing is become one of my principal amuse- 
ments, and I have already produced so many verses 



106 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1781 

on subjects that entitle them to a hope that they may 
possibly be useful, I should be sorry to suppress them 
entirely, or to publish them to no purpose, for want 
of that cheap ingredient, the name of the author. If 
my name therefore will serve them in any degree, as 
a passport into the public notice, they are welcome to 
it ; and Mr. Johnson will, if he pleases, announce me 
to the world by the style and title of 

WILLIAM COWPER, ESQ. 
Of the Inner Temple. 

If you are of my mind, I think Table Talk will be 
the best to begin with, as the subjects of it are perhaps 
more popular; and one would wish, at first setting 
out, to catch the public by the ear, and hold them by 
it as fast as possible, that they may be willing to hear 
one, on a second and a third occasion. 

The passage you object to I inserted merely by 
way of catch, and think that it is not unlikely to 
answer the purpose. My design was to say as many 
serious things as I could, and yet to be as lively as 
was compatible with such a purpose. Do not imagine 
that I mean to stickle for it as a pretty creature of my 
own that I am loth to part with but I am appre- 
hensive that without the sprightliness of that passage 
to introduce it, the following paragraph would not 
show to advantage. If the world had been filled with 
men like yourself, I should never have written it ; but 
thinking myself in a measure obliged to tickle, if I 
meant to please, I therefore affected a jocularity I did 



1781] TO THE REV. JOHN NEWTON 107 

not feel. As to the rest, wherever there is war, there 
is misery and outrage ; notwithstanding which it is 
not only lawful to wish, but even a duty to pray for 
the success of one's country. And as to the neutralities, 
I really think the Russian virago an impertinent puss 
for meddling with us, and engaging half a score kittens 
of her acquaintance to scratch the poor old lion, who, 
if he has been insolent in his day, has probably acted 
no otherwise than they themselves would have acted in 
his circumstances, and with his power to embolden them. 
I am glad that the myrtles reached you safe, but 
am persuaded from past experience that no manage- 
ment will keep them long alive in London, especially 
in the city. Our English Trots, 1 the natives of the 
country, are for the most part too delicate to thrive 
there, much more the nice Italian. To give them, 
however, the best chance they can have, the lady 
must keep them well watered, giving them a moderate 
quantity in summer time every other day, and in 
winter about twice a week ; not spring-water, for that 
would kill them. At Michaelmas, as much of the 
mould as can be taken out without disturbing the 
roots must be evacuated, and its place supplied with 
fresh, the lighter the better. And once in two years 
the plants must be drawn out of their pots with the 
entire ball of earth about them, and the matted roots 

1 What word has been thus mis-printed I am unable to guess, 
and the original letter is one of those which have not been pre- 
served in Mr. Newton's collection. R. SOUTHEY. In his edition 
of Cowper's Letters Mr. Thomas Wright prints [sorts] for Trots, a 
plausible emendation. 



io8 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1781 

pared off with a sharp knife, when they must be 
planted again with an addition of rich light earth as 
before. Thus dealt with, they will grow luxuriantly 
in a green-house, where they can have plenty of sweet 
air, which is absolutely necessary to their health. I 
used to purchase them at Covent Garden almost every 
year, when I lived in the Temple ; but even in that 
airy situation they were sure to lose their leaf in 
winter, and seldom recovered it again in spring. I 
wish them a better fate at Hoxton. 

Olney has seen this day what it never saw before, 
and what will serve it to talk of, I suppose, for years 
to come. At eleven o'clock this morning, a party of 
soldiers entered the town, driving before them another 
party, who,, after obstinately defending the bridge for 
some time, were obliged to quit it, and run. They 
ran in very good order, frequently faced about and 
fired, but were at last obliged to surrender prisoners 
of war. There has been much drumming and shout- 
ing, much scampering about in the dirt, but not an 
inch of lace made in the town, at least at the Silver 
End of it 

It is our joint request that you will not again leave 
us unwritten to for a fortnight. We are so like your- 
selves in this particular, that we cannot help ascribing 
so long a silence to the worst cause. The longer your 
letters the better, but a short one is better than none. 

Mrs. Unwin is pretty well, and adds the greetings 
of her love to mine. Yours, my dear friend, 

WM. COWPER. 



1781] TO THE REV. WILLIAM UNWIN 109 

LIV 

To the Rev. William Unwin. 

May i, 1781. 

Your mother says I must write, and must admits 
of no apology ; I might otherwise plead, that I have 
nothing to say, that I am weary, that I am dull, that 
it would be more convenient therefore for you, as 
well as for myself, that I should let it alone ; but all 
these pleas, and whatever pleas besides either disin- 
clination, indolence, or necessity might suggest, are 
overruled, as they ought to be, the moment a lady 
adduces her irrefragable argument, you must. You 
have still however one comfort left, that what I must 
write, you may, or may not read, just as it shall please 
you; unless Lady Anne at your elbow should say, 
you must read it, and then like a true knight you will 
obey without looking out for a remedy. 

I do not love to harp upon strings that, to say the 
least, are not so musical as one would wish. But you 
I know have many a time sacrificed your own feelings 
to those of others, and where an act of charity leads 
you, are not easily put out of your way. This con- 
sideration encourages me just to insinuate that your 
silence on the subject of a certain nomination is dis- 
tressful to more than you would wish, in particular to 
the little boy whose clothes are outgrown and worn 
out ; and to his mother, who is unwilling to furnish 
him with a new suit, having reason to suppose that 



i io LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1781 

the long blue petticoat would soon supersede it, if 
she should. 

In the press, and speedily will be published, in 
one volume octavo, price three shillings, Poems, by 
William Cowper, of the Inner Temple, Esq. You 
may suppose, by the size of the publication, that the 
greatest part of them have been long kept secret, 
because you yourself have never seen them : but the 
truth is, that they are most of them, except what you 
have in your possession, the produce of the last winter. 
Two-thirds of the compilation will be occupied by 
four pieces, the first of which sprung up in the month 
of December, and the last of them in the month of 
March. They contain, I suppose, in all, about two 
thousand and five hundred lines; are known, or to 
be known in due time, by the names of Table Talk 
The Progress of Error Truth Expostulation. 
Mr. Newton writes a Preface, and Johnson is the 
publisher. The principal, I may say the only reason 
why I never mentioned to you, till now, an affair 
which I am just going to make known to all the 
world, (if that Mr. All-the-world should think it worth 
his knowing,) has been this ; that till within these few 
days, I had not the honour to know it myself. This 
may seem strange, but it is true; for not knowing 
where to find underwriters who would choose to insure 
them ; and not finding it convenient to a purse like 
mine, to run any hazard, even upon the credit of my 
own ingenuity, I was very much in doubt for some 
weeks, whether any bookseller would be willing to 



1781] TO THE REV. WILLIAM UN WIN m 

subject himself to an ambiguity, that might prove 
very expensive in case of a bad market. But Johnson 
has heroically set all peradventures at defiance, and 
takes the whole charge upon himself. So out I come. 
I shall be glad of my Translations from Vincent 
Bourne, in your next frank. My Muse will lay 
herself at your feet immediately on her first public 
appearance. Yours, my dear friend, 



LV 

To Joseph Hill, Esq. 

May 9, 1781. 

MY DEAR SIR, 

I am in the press, and it is in vain to deny it. 
But how mysterious is the conveyance of intelligence 
from one end to the other of your great city ! Not 
many days since, except one man, and he but a little 
taller than yourself, all London was ignorant of it ; for 
I do not suppose that the public prints have yet an- 
nounced this most agreeable tidings, the title-page, 
which is the basis of the advertisement, having so 
lately reached the publisher : and now it is known to 
you, who live at least two miles distant from my con- 
fidant upon the occasion. 

My labours are principally the production of the 
last winter; all indeed, except a few of the minor 
pieces. When I can find no other occupation, I think, 
and when I think, I am very apt to do it in rhyme. 



112 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1781 

Hence it comes to pass that the season of the year 
which generally pinches off the flowers of poetry, 
unfolds mine, such as they are, and crowns me with 
a winter garland. 1 In this respect therefore, I and 

1 Similarly Milton, to explain why he made no progress with 
Paradise Lost in summer, confessed to his nephew Phillips ' ' that 
his vein never flowed but from the autumnal equinox to the vernal, 
and that whatever he attempted [at other seasons] was never to his 
satisfaction, though he courted his fancy never so much." See the 
Life of Milton prefixed to Mr. R. C. Browne's edition of his poems 
(Oxford, 1876), vol. i. pp. xxiv. sq. So, too, Wordsworth, in the 
sonnet beginning " While not a leaf seems faded," greets the first 
nipping airs of September as the heralds of 

' ' A season potent to renew, 
'Mid frost and snow, the instinctive joys of song, 
And nobler cares than listless summer knew." 

And in a note prefixed to it he refers to ' ' that state of robust con- 
stitution which prompted me to rejoice in a season of frost and 
snow as more favourable to the Muses than summer itself. " Keble, 
also, in the poem beginning, ' ' Dear is the morning gale of spring, " 
tells us that the wings of the poet's fancy always speed from the 
cloudless skies of summer to spring or autumn. Alfieri says of 
himself : "I likewise experienced that my intellectual faculties 
resembled a barometer, and that I possessed more or less talent for 
composition in proportion to the weight of the atmosphere. During 
the prevalence of the solstitial and equinoctial winds, I was always 
remarkably stupid, and uniformly evinced less penetration in the 
evening than the morning. I likewise perceived that the force of 
my imagination, the ardour of enthusiasm, and capability of inven- 
tion, were possessed by me in a higher degree in the middle of 
winter or in the middle of summer, than during the intermediate 
periods." See Francis Jeffrey, Contributions to the Edinburgh 
Review (London, 1844), vol. i. p. 371. It might be interesting 
to collect evidence of the sensibility of literary and artistic genius 
to the influence of weather, climate, and the seasons. In his essay 
on "Popular Fallacies," Charles Lamb expresses the view that 
candle-light is more favourable than sunlight to the working of the 
poetical fancy ; and Goethe seems to hint at the same thing in the 
lines which he puts in the mouth of Faust : 

" Ach, wenn in -unsrer en gen Zelle 
Die Lampe freundlich wieder brennt, ' ' etc. 



1781] TO JOSEPH HILL, ESQ. 113 

my contemporary bards are by no means upon a par. 
They write when the delightful influences of fine 
weather, fine prospects, and a brisk motion of the 
animal spirits, make poetry almost the language of 
nature ; and I, when icicles depend from all the leaves 
of the Parnassian laurel, and when a reasonable man 
would as little expect to succeed in verse, as to hear 
a blackbird whistle. This must be my apology to 
you for whatever want of fire and animation you may 
observe in what you will shortly have the perusal of. 
As to the public, if they like me not, there is no 
remedy. A friend will weigh and consider all dis- 
advantages, and make as large allowances as an author 
can wish, and larger perhaps than he has any right to 
expect ; but not so the world at large ; whatever they 
do not like, they will not by any apology be persuaded 
to forgive, and it would be in vain to tell them, that 
I wrote my verses in January, for they would immedi- 
ately reply, " Why did not you write them in May ? " 
A question that might puzzle a wiser head than we 
poets are generally blessed with. 



LVI 

To the Rev. William Unwin. 

May 23, 1781. 

Mv DEAR FRIEND, 

If a writer's friends have need of patience, how 
much more the writer ! Your desire to see my muse 

VOL. I I 



ii 4 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1781 

in public, and mine to gratify you, must both suffer 
the mortification of delay. I expected that my 
trumpeter would have informed the world by this 
time of all that is needful for them to know upon 
such an occasion; and that an advertising blast, blown 
through every newspaper, would have said "The 
poet is coming!" But man, especially man that 
writes verse, is born to disappointments, as surely as 
printers and booksellers are born to be the most 
dilatory and tedious of all creatures. The plain 
English of this magnificent preamble is, that the 
season of publication is just elapsed, that the town is 
going into the country every day, and that my book 
cannot appear till they return, that is to say, not till 
next winter. 

This misfortune however comes not without its 
attendant advantage ; I shall now have, what I should 
not otherwise have had, an opportunity to correct the 
press myself; no small advantage upon any occasion, 
but especially important, where poetry is concerned ! 
A single erratum may knock out the brains of a whole 
passage, and that perhaps, which of all others the un- 
fortunate poet is the most proud of. Add to this, that 
now and then there is to be found in a printing- 
house a presumptuous intermeddler, who will fancy 
himself a poet too, and what is still worse, a better 
than he that employs him. The consequence is, that 
with cobbling, and tinkering, and patching on here 
and there a shred of his own, he makes such a 
difference between the original and the copy, that an 



1781] TO THE REV. WILLIAM UN WIN 115 

author cannot know his own work again. Now as I 
choose to be responsible for nobody's dulness but my 
own, I am a little comforted, when I reflect that it 
will be in my power to prevent all such impertinence ; 
and yet not without your assistance. It will be quite 
necessary, that the correspondence between me and 
Johnson should be carried on without the expense of 
postage, because proof sheets would make double or 
treble letters, which expense, as in every instance it 
must occur twice, first when the packet is sent, and 
again when it is returned, would be rather incon- 
venient to me, who, as you perceive, am forced to 
live by my wits, and to him, who hopes to get a little 
matter no doubt by the same means. Half a dozen 
franks therefore to me, and totidetn to him, will be 
singularly acceptable, if you can, without feeling it in 
any respect a trouble, procure them for me. 

My neckcloths being all worn out, I intend to wear 
stocks, but not unless they are more fashionable than 
the former. In that case, I shall be obliged to you 
if you will buy me a handsome stock-buckle, for a 
very little money ; for twenty or twenty-five shillings 
perhaps a second-hand affair may be purchased that 
will make a figure at Olney. 

I am much obliged to you for your offer to support 
me in a translation of Bourne. It is but seldom, 
however, and never except for my amusement, that I 
translate, because I find it disagreeable to work by 
another man's pattern; I should at least be sure to 
find it so in a business of any length. Again, that is 



ii6 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1781 

epigrammatic and witty in Latin, which would be 
perfectly insipid in English ; and a translator of 
Bourne would frequently find himself obliged to 
supply what is called the turn, which is in fact the 
most difficult, and the most expensive part of the 
whole composition, and could not perhaps, in many 
instances, be done with any tolerable success. If a 
Latin poem is neat, elegant, and musical, it is enough ; 
but English readers are not so easily satisfied. To 
quote myself, you will find, in comparing the Jackdaw 
with the original, that I was obliged to sharpen a 
point which, though smart enough in the Latin, 
would, in English, have appeared as plain, and as 
blunt, as the tag of a lace. I love the memory of 
Vinny Bourne. I think him a better Latin poet than 
Tibullus, Propertius, Ausonius, or any of the writers 
in his way, except Ovid, and not at all inferior to him. 
I love him too with a love of partiality, because he 
was usher of the fifth form at Westminster, when I 
passed through it. He was so good-natured, and so 
indolent, that I lost more than I got by him ; for he 
made me as idle as himself. He was such a sloven, 
as if he had trusted to his genius as a cloak for every 
thing that could disgust you in his person ; and indeed 
in his writings he has almost made amends for all. 
His humour is entirely original; he can speak of a 
magpie or a cat in terms so exquisitely appropriated 
to the character he draws, that one would suppose 
him animated by the spirit of the creature he describes. 
And with all this drollery there is a mixture of rational, 



1781] TO THE REV. WILLIAM UN WIN 117 

and even religious reflection at times : and always an 
air of pleasantry, good-nature, and humanity, that 
makes him, in my mind, one of the most amiable 
writers in the world. It is not common to meet with 
an author who can make you smile, and yet at no- 
body's expense; who is always entertaining, and yet 
always harmless; and who, though always elegant, 
and classical to a degree not always found even in 
the classics themselves, charms more by the simplicity 
and playfulness of his ideas, than by the neatness and 
purity of his verse; yet such was poor Vinny. I 
remember seeing the Duke of Richmond set fire to 
his greasy locks, and box his ears to put it out again. 
I am delighted with your project, but not with the 
view I have of its success. If the world would form 
its opinion of the clerical character at large, from yours 
in particular, I have no doubt but the event would be 
as prosperous as you could wish. But I suppose there 
is not a member of either house who does not see 
within the circle of his own acquaintance, a minister, 
perhaps many ministers, whose integrity would con- 
tribute but little to the effect of such a bill. Here 
are seven or eight in the neighbourhood of Olney, 
who have shaken hands with sobriety, and who would 
rather suppress the church, were it not for the emolu- 
ments annexed, than discourage the sale of strong 
beer in a single instance. Were I myself in Parlia- 
ment, I am not sure that I could favour your scheme ; 
are there not to be found within five miles of almost 
every neighbourhood, parsons who would purchase 



Ii8 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1781 

well accustomed public -houses, because they could 
secure them a license, and patronize them when they 
had done? I think no penalty would prevent the 
abuse, on account of the difficulty of proof, and that 
no ingenuity could guard against all the possible 
abuses. To sum up all in few words, the generality 
of the clergy, especially within these last twenty or 
thirty years, have worn their circingles so loose, that 
I verily believe no measure that proposed an accession 
of privilege to an order which the laity retain but little 
respect for, would meet with the countenance of the 
legislature. You will do me the justice to suppose 
that I do not say these things to gratify a splenetic 
humour or a censorious turn of mind ; far from it, 
it may add, perhaps, to the severity of the foregoing 
observation to assert, and if it does, I cannot help 
asserting, that I verily believe them to be founded 
upon fact, and that I am sure, partly from my own 
knowledge, and partly from the report of those whose 
veracity I can depend upon, that in this part of the 
world at least, many of the most profligate characters 
are the very men to whom the morals, and even the 
souls of others are entrusted ; and I cannot suppose 
that the diocese of Lincoln, or this part of it in 
particular, is more unfortunate in that respect than 
the rest of the kingdom. 

Since I began to write long poems, I seem to turn 
up my nose at the idea of a short one. I have lately 
entered upon one, which, if ever finished, cannot easily 
be comprised in much less than a thousand lines ! But 



1781] TO THE REV. WILLIAM UN WIN 119 

this must make part of a second publication, and be 
accompanied, in due time, by others not yet thought 
of; for it seems (which I did not know till the book- 
seller had occasion to tell me so) that single pieces 
stand no chance, and that nothing less than a volume 
will go down. You yourself afford me a proof of the 
certainty of this intelligence, by sending me franks 
which nothing less than a volume can fill. I have 
accordingly sent you one, but am obliged to add, that 
had the wind been in any other point of the compass, 
or, blowing as it does from the east, had it been less 
boisterous, you must have been contented with a 
much shorter letter, but the abridgement of every 
other occupation is very favourable to that of writing. 
I am glad I did not expect to hear from you by 
this post, for the boy has lost the bag in which your 
letter must have been enclosed ; another reason for 
my prolixity ! Yours affectionately, 



LVII 

To the Rev. William Unwin. 

May, 1781. 

MY DEAR FRIEND, 

I believe I never give you trouble without feeling 
more than I give; so much by way of preface and 
apology. 

Thus stands the case. Johnson has begun to print, 
and Mr. Newton has already corrected the first sheet. 



120 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1781 

This unexpected despatch makes it necessary for me 
to furnish myself with means of communication, viz. 
the franks, as soon as may be. There are reasons (I 
believe I mentioned them in my last) why I choose 
to revise the proofs myself : nevertheless, if your deli- 
cacy must suffer the puncture of a pin's point in pro- 
curing the franks for me, I release you entirely from 
the task ; you are as free as if I had never mentioned 
them. But you will oblige me by a speedy answer 
upon this subject, because it is expedient that the 
printer should know to whom he is to send his copy ; 
and when the press is once set, those humble servants 
of the poets are rather impatient of any delay, because 
the types are wanted for other authors, who are equally 
in haste to be born. 

This fine weather I suppose sets you on horseback, 
and allures the ladies into the garden. If I was at 
Stock, I should be of their party ; and while they sat 
knotting or netting in the shade, should comfort my- 
self with the thought, that I had not a beast under 
me, whose walk would seem tedious, whose trot would 
jumble me, and whose gallop might throw me into a 
ditch. What nature expressly designed me for I have 
never been able to conjecture; I seem to myself so 
universally disqualified for the common and customary 
occupations and amusements of mankind. When I 
was a boy, I excelled at' cricket and foot-ball, but the 
fame I acquired by achievements in that way is long 
since forgotten, and I do not know that I have made 
a figure in any thing since. I am sure however that 



1781] TO THE REV. WILLIAM UN WIN 121 

she did not design me for a horseman ; and that, if 
all men were of my mind, there would be an end of 
all jockeyship for ever. I am rather straitened in 
time, and not very rich in materials, therefore, with 
our joint love to you all, conclude myself, yours 

ever ' W. C. 

LVIII 

To the Rev. John Newton. 

May 28, 1781. 

MY DEAR FRIEND, 

I am much obliged to you for the pains you have 
taken with my Table Talk, and wish that my viva 
voce Table Talk could repay you for the trouble you 
have had with the written one. 

I am quite surprised at Johnson's diligence, and 
began to wish, while reading your account of it, that I 
had left the business of correction in your hands ; but 
presently recollecting that it is a tedious troublesome 
employment, and fit only for the author himself to be 
burthened with, I relapsed into my former sentiment. 
My franks are not yet ready, but I shall lose no time 
in procuring them if they are to be got. I enclose a 
line to Johnson, to tell him that if in the mean time, 
and while you are absent from town, another parcel 
of the proof should be ready for revisal, I wish him to 
send it hither by the diligence. I am as well con- 
vinced of the accuracy and exactness with which you 
would perform the task, as it is possible for me to be 



122 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1781 

of my own, and if I can obtain no franks shall after 
all have recourse to your assistance. 

The season is wonderfully improved within this 
day or two ; and if these cloudless skies are continued 
to us, or rather if the cold winds do not set in again, 
promises you a pleasant excursion, as far, at least, as 
the weather can conduce to make it such. You 
seldom complain of too much sunshine, and if you 
are prepared for a heat somewhat like that of Africa, 
the south walk in our long garden will exactly suit 
you. Reflected from the gravel, and from the walls, 
and beating upon your head at the same time, it may 
possibly make you wish you could enjoy for an hour 
or two that immensity of shade afforded by the gigantic 
trees still growing in the land of your captivity. 1 If 
you could spend a day now and then in those forests, 
and return with a wish to England, it would be no 
small addition to the number of your best pleasures. 
But penna non homini data. The time will come 
perhaps, (but death must come first,) when you will 
be able to visit them without either danger, trouble, 
or expense; and when the contemplation of those 
well-remembered scenes will awaken in you emotions 
of gratitude and praise surpassing all you could 
possibly sustain at present. In this sense, I suppose, 
there is a heaven upon earth at all times, and that the 

1 The Rev. John Newton was for some time in his early life a 
slave-trader between the coast of Africa and the West Indies. If 
the words "the land of your captivity " could be understood to 
mean, " the land where you carried other people into captivity," 
they would be very appropriate. 



1781] TO THE REV. JOHN NEWTON 123 

disembodied spirit may find a peculiar joy arising from 
the contemplation of those places it was formerly con- 
versant with, and so far, at least, be reconciled to a 
world it was once so weary of, as to use it in the de- 
lightful way of thankful recollection. 

Miss Catlett must not think of any other lodging 
than we can without any inconvenience, as we shall 
with all possible pleasure, furnish her with. We can 
each of us say, that is, I can say it in Latin, and 
Mrs. Unwin in English, Nihil tui a me alienumputo. 
She shall have a great bed and a great room, and we 
shall have the chamber we always occupy when we 
have company, and should certainly occupy, if she 
was not of the party. This state of the case leaves no 
room for the least objection ; we desire therefore that 
you will give our love to her, tell her we shall expect 
her, and that she will be but half as welcome to us 
if she sleeps any where else. 

Having two more letters to write, I find myself 
obliged to shorten this ; so once more wishing you a 
good journey, and ourselves the happiness of receiving 
you in good health and spirits, I remain, affection- 
ately yours, w> c 

LIX 

To the Rev. William Unwin. 

MY DEAR FRIEND, June 5. J 78i. 

If the old adage be true, that " he gives twice, who 
gives speedily," it is equally true, that he who not 



124 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1781 

only uses expedition in giving, but gives more than 
was asked, gives thrice at least. Such is the style 
in which Mr. Smith confers a favour. He has not 
only sent me franks to Johnson, but, under another 
cover, has added six to you. These last, for aught 
that appears by your letter, he threw in of his own 
mere bounty. I beg that my share of thanks may 
not be wanting on this occasion, and that when you 
write to him next you will assure him of the sense I 
have of the obligation, which is the more flattering, 
as it includes a proof of his predilection in favour of 
the poems his franks are destined to enclose. May 
they not forfeit his good opinion hereafter, nor yours, 
to whom I hold myself indebted in the first place, and 
who have equally given me credit for their deservings ! 
Your mother says, that although there are passages in 
them containing opinions which will not be universally 
subscribed to, the world will at least allow what my 
great modesty will not permit me to subjoin. I have 
the highest opinion of her judgement, and know, by 
having experienced the soundness of them, that her 
observations are always worthy of attention and regard. 
Yet, strange as it may seem, I do not feel the vanity 
of an author, when she commends me; but I feel 
something better, a spur to my diligence, and a 
cordial to my spirits, both together animating me to 
deserve, at least not to fall short of her expectations. 
For I verily believe, if my dulness should earn me 
the character of a dunce, the censure would affect her 
more than me ; not that I am insensible of the value 



1781] TO THE REV. WILLIAM UNWIN 125 

of a good name, either as a man or an author. With- 
out an ambition to attain it, it is absolutely unattain- 
able under either of those descriptions. But my life 
having been in many respects a series of mortifications 
and disappointments, I am become less apprehensive 
and impressible perhaps in some points, than I should 
otherwise have been; and though I should be ex- 
quisitely sorry to disgrace my friends, could endure 
my own share of the affliction with a reasonable 
measure of tranquillity. 

These seasonable showers have poured floods upon 
all the neighbouring parishes, but have passed us by. 
My garden languishes, and, what is worse, the fields 
too languish, and the upland grass is burnt. These 
discriminations are not fortuitous. But if they are 
providential, what do they import ? I can only answer, 
as a friend of mine once answered a mathematical 
question in the schools " Prorsiis nescio." Perhaps 
it is, that men, who will not believe what they cannot 
understand, may learn the folly of their conduct, 
while their very senses are made to witness against 
them; and themselves in the course of Providence 
become the subjects of a thousand dispensations they 
cannot explain. But the end is never answered. 
The lesson is inculcated indeed frequently enough, 
but nobody learns it. Well. Instruction vouchsafed 
in vain is (I suppose) a debt to be accounted for here- 
after. You must understand this to be a soliloquy. 
I wrote my thoughts without recollecting that I was 

writing a letter, and to you. , 

vv v 



126 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1781 

LX 
To the Rev. John Newton. 

July 12, 1781. 
MY VERY DEAR FRIEND, 

I am going to send, what when you have read, you 
may scratch your head, and say, I suppose, there's 
nobody knows, whether what I have got, be verse or 
not : by the tune and the time, it ought to be rhyme ; 
but if it be, did you ever see, of late or of yore, such 
a ditty before ? The thought did occur, to me and to 
her, as Madam and I, did walk and not fly, over hills 
and dales, with spreading sails, before it was dark, to 
Weston Park. 

The news at Oney is little or noney, but such as it 
is, I send it, viz. Poor Mr. Peace cannot yet cease, 
addling his head with what you said, and has left 
parish-church quite in the lurch, having almost swore 
to go there no more. 

Page and his wife, that made such a strife, we met 
them twain in Dog Lane ; we gave them the wall, and 
that was all. For Mr. Scott, we have seen him not, 
except as he pass'd, in a wonderful haste, to see a 
friend in Silver End. Mrs. Jones proposes, ere July 
closes, that she and her sister, and her Jones Mister, 
and we that are here, our course shall steer, to dine in 
the Spinney ; but for a guinea, if the weather should 
hold, so hot and so cold, we had better by far stay 
where we are. For the grass there grows, while no- 



1781] TO THE REV. JOHN NEWTON 127 

body mows, (which is very wrong,) so rank and long, 
that so to speak, 'tis at least a week, if it happens to 
rain, ere it dries again. 

I have writ Charity, not for popularity, but as well 
as I could, in hopes to do good ; and if the Reviewer 
should say "to be sure, the gentleman's Muse, wears 
Methodist shoes ; you may know by her pace, and talk 
about grace, that she and her bard have little regard, 
for the taste and fashions, and ruling passions, and 
hoidening play, of the modern day ; and though she 
assume a borrowed plume, and now and then wear a 
tittering air, 'tis only her plan, to catch if she can, the 
giddy and gay, as they go that way, by a production, 
on a new construction. She has baited her trap in 
hopes to snap all that may come, with a sugar-plum." 

His opinion in this, will not be amiss ; 'tis what I 

intend, my principal end ; and if I succeed, and folks 
should read, till a few are brought to a serious thought, 
I shall think I am paid, for all I have said, and all I 
have done, though I have run, many a time, after a 
rhyme, as far as from hence, to the end of my sense, 
and by hook or crook, write another book, if I live 
and am here, another year. 

I have neard before, of a room with a floor, laid 
upon springs, and such like things, with so much art, 
in every part, that when you went in, you was forced 
to begin a minuet pace, with an air and a grace, swim- 
ming about, now in and now out, with a deal of state, 
in a figure of eight, without pipe or string, or any such 
thing; and now I have writ, in a rhyming fit, what 



128 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1781 

will make you dance, and as you advance, will keep 
you still, though against your will, dancing away, alert 
and gay, till you come to an end of what I have penn'd ; 
which that you may do, ere Madam and you are quite 
worn out with jigging about, I take my leave, and here 
you receive a bow profound, down to the ground, from 
your humble me -^ ~ 

P.S. When I concluded, doubtless you did think 
me right, as well you might, in saying what I said of 
Scott ; and then it was true, but now it is due, to him 
to note, that since I wrote, himself and he has visited 



LXI 

To the Rev. William Unwin. 

July 29, 1781. 

MY DEAR FRIEND, 

Having given the case you laid before me in your 
last all due consideration, I proceed to answer it ; 
and in order to clear my way, shall, in the first 
place, set down my sense of those passages in Scrip- 
ture which, on a hasty perusal, seem to clash with the 
opinion I am going to give "If a man smite one 
cheek, turn the other " " If he take thy cloak, let him 
take thy coat also." That is, I suppose, rather than 
on a vindictive principle avail yourself of that remedy 

1 This letter was first printed entire in the Memoir of Cowper, 
prefixed to the edition of his poems among the Aldine Poets ; 
the most judicious memoir and the best arranged edition that 
has yet appeared. R. SOUTHEY. 



1781] TO THE REV. WILLIAM UNWIN 129 

the law allows you, in the way of retaliation, for that 
was the subject immediately under the discussion of 
the speaker. Nothing is so contrary to the genius 
of the Gospel, as the gratification of resentment and 
revenge ; but I cannot easily persuade myself to think, 
that the author of that dispensation could possibly 
advise his followers to consult their own peace at 
the expense of the peace of society, or inculcate a 
universal abstinence from the use of lawful remedies, 
to the encouragement of injury and oppression. 

St. Paul again seems to condemn the practice of 
going to law, " Why do ye not rather suffer wrong ? " 
&c. But if we look again, we shall find that a litigi- 
ous temper had obtained, and was prevalent among 
the professors of the day. This he condemned, 
and with good reason ; it was unseemly to the last 
degree, that the disciples of the Prince of Peace should 
worry and vex each other with injurious treatment, 
and unnecessary disputes, to the scandal of their 
religion in the eyes of the heathen. But surely he 
did not mean any more than his Master, in the place 
above alluded to, that the most harmless members of 
society should receive no advantage of its laws, or 
should be the only persons in the world who should 
derive no benefit from those institutions, without 
which society cannot subsist. Neither of them could 
mean to throw down the pale of property, and to lay 
the Christian part of the world open, throughout all 
ages, to the incursions of unlimited violence and 
wrong. 

VOL. I K 



130 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1781 

By this time you are sufficiently aware, that I think 
you have an indisputable right to recover at law what 
is so dishonestly withheld from you. The fellow, I 
suppose, has discernment enough to see a difference 
between you and the generality of the clergy, and 
cunning enough to conceive the purpose of turning 
your meekness and forbearance to good account, and 
of coining them into hard cash, which he means to 
put in his pocket. But I would disappoint him, and 
show him, that though a Christian is not to be quarrel- 
some, he is not to be crushed ; and that though he 
is but a worm before God, he is not such a worm as 
every selfish unprincipled wretch may tread upon at 
his pleasure. 

I lately heard a story from a lady, who has spent 
many years of her life in France, somewhat to the 
present purpose. An Abbe, universally esteemed for 
his piety, and especially for the meekness of his 
manners, had yet undesignedly given some offence 
to a shabby fellow in his parish. The man, conclud- 
ing he might do as he pleased with so forgiving and 
gentle a character, struck him on one cheek, and bade 
him turn the other. The good man did so, and when 
he had received the two slaps, which he thought him- 
self obliged to submit to, turned again, and beat him 
soundly. I do not wish to see you follow the French 
gentleman's example, but I believe nobody that has 
heard the story condemns him much for the spirit he 
showed upon the occasion. 

I had the relation from Lady Austen, sister to 



1781] TO THE REV. WILLIAM UNWIN 131 

Mrs. Jones, wife of the minister at Clifton. She is a 
most agreeable woman, and has fallen in love with 
your mother and me ; insomuch, that I do not know 
but she may settle at Olney. Yesterday se'nnight we 
all dined together in the Spinnie a most delightful 
retirement, belonging to Mrs. Throckmorton of 
Weston. Lady Austen's lackey, and a lad that waits 
on me in the garden, drove a wheelbarrow full of 
eatables and drinkables to the scene of our Fete 
Champetre. A board laid over the top of the wheel- 
barrow served us for a table ; our dining-room was a 
root-house lined with moss and ivy. At six o'clock, 
the servants, who had dined under a great elm upon 
the ground, at a little distance, boiled the kettle, and 
the said wheelbarrow served us for a tea-table. We 
then took a walk into the wilderness, about half a mile 
off, and were at home again a little after eight, having 
spent the day together from noon till evening without 
one cross occurrence, or the least weariness of each 
other. A happiness few parties of pleasure can boast 
of. Yours, with our joint love, 



LXII 

To Mrs. Newton. 

Aug. 1781. 

DEAR MADAM, 

Though much obliged to you for the favour of your 
last, and ready enough to acknowledge the debt, the 



132 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1781 

present, however, is not a day in which I should have 
chosen to pay it A dejection of mind, which perhaps 
may be removed by to-morrow, rather disqualifies me 
for writing, a business I would always perform in 
good spirits, because melancholy is catching, especially 
where there is much sympathy to assist the contagion. 
But certain poultry, which I understand are about to 
pay their respects to you, have advertised for an 
agreeable companion, and I find myself obliged to 
embrace the opportunity of going to town with them 
in that capacity. 

I thank you for your little abridgment of my 
family's history. Like every thing that relates to the 
present world, in which there seems to be nearly an 
equal mixture of the lamentable and ridiculous, it 
affords both occasion to laugh and to cry. In this 
single instance of my uncle, I can see cause for both. 
He trembles upon the verge of fourscore : a white hat 
with a yellow lining is no indication of wisdom suitable 
to so great an age ; he can go but one step farther in 
the road of impropriety, and direct his executor to 
bury him in it. He is a very little man, and had he 
lined his hat with pink instead of yellow, might have 
been gathered by a natural mistake for a mushroom, 
and sent off in a basket. 

While the world lasts, fashion will continue to lead 
it by the nose. And, after all, what can fashion do 
for its most obsequious followers? It can ring the 
changes upon the same things, and it can do no more. 
Whether our hats be white or black, our caps high or 



1781] TO MRS. NEWTON 133 

low, whether we wear two watches or one, is of little 
consequence. There is indeed an appearance of 
variety ; but the folly and vanity that dictates and 
adopts the change, are invariably the same. When 
the fashions of a particular period appear more reason- 
able than those of the preceding, it is not because the 
world is grown more reasonable than it was; but 
because, in a course of perpetual changes, some of 
them must sometimes happen to be for the better. 
Neither do I suppose the preposterous customs that 
prevail at present, a proof of its greater folly. In a 
few years, perhaps next year, the fine gentleman will 
shut up his umbrella, and give it to his sister, filling 
his hand with a crab-tree cudgel instead of it : and 
when he has done so, will he be wiser than now? 
By no means. The love of change will have betrayed 
him into a propriety, which, in reality, he has no taste 
for, all his merit on the occasion amounting to no 
more than this that, being weary of one plaything, 
he has taken up another. 

In a note I received from Johnson last week, he 
expresses a wish that my pen may be still employed. 
Supposing it possible that he would yet be glad to 
swell the volume, I have given him an order to draw 
upon me for eight hundred lines, if he chooses it; 
Conversation, a piece which I think I mentioned in 
my last to Mr. Newton, being finished. If Johnson 
sends for it, I shall transcribe it as soon as I can, 
and transmit it to Charles Square. Mr. Newton will 
take the trouble to forward it to the press. It is not 



134 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1781 

a dialogue, as the title would lead you to surmise ; 
nor does it bear the least resemblance to Table Talk, 
except that it is serio-comic, like all the rest. My 
design in it is to convince the world that they make 
but an indifferent use of their tongues, considering 
the intention of Providence when he endued them 
with the faculty of speech ; to point out the abuses, 
which is the jocular part of the business, and to 
prescribe the remedy, which is the grave and sober. 

We felt ourselves not the less obliged to you for 
the cocoa-nuts, though they were good for nothing. 
They contained nothing but a putrid liquor, with a 
round white lump, which in taste and substance much 
resembled tallow, and was of the size of a small wal- 
nut. Nor am I the less indebted to your kindness for 
the fish, though none is yet come. Mrs. Unwin does 
not forget the eggs, but while the harvest continues 
puddings are in such request, that the farmers will 
not part with them. 

Our joint love to both, and to Miss Catlett, if at 
home. Sir's letter, for which I thank him, shall have 
an answer as soon as possible. Yours, dear madam, 
most affectionately, YV C 

LXIII 
To the Rev. John Newton. 

Aug. 16, 1781. 

MY DEAR FRIEND, 

I might date my letter from the greenhouse, which 
we have converted into a summer parlour. The walls 



1781] TO THE REV. JOHN NEWTON 135 

hung with garden mats, and the floor covered with a 
carpet, the sun too in a great measure excluded, by 
an awning of mats which forbids him to shine any 
where except upon the carpet, it affords us by far 
the pleasantest retreat in Olney. We eat, drink, and 
sleep, where we always did; but here we spend all 
the rest of our time, and find that the sound of the 
wind in the trees, and the singing of birds, are much 
more agreeable to our ears than the incessant barking 
of dogs and screaming of children. Not to mention 
the exchange of a sweet smelling garden, for the putrid 
exhalations of Silver End. It is an observation that 
naturally occurs upon the occasion, and which many 
other occasions furnish an opportunity to make, that 
people long for what they have not, and overlook the 
good in their possession. This is so true in the 
present instance, that for years past I should have 
thought myself happy to enjoy a retirement even less 
flattering to my natural taste than this in which I am 
now writing; and have often looked wistfully at a 
snug cottage, which, on account of its situation at a 
distance from noise and disagreeable objects, seemed 
to promise me all I could wish or expect, so far as 
happiness may be said to be local ; never once advert- 
ing to this comfortable nook, which affords me all 
that could be found in the most sequestered hermitage, 
with the advantage of having all those accommoda- 
tions near at hand which no hermitage could possibly 
afford me. People imagine they should be happy in 
circumstances which they would find insupportably 



1 36 LE TTERS FROM OLNE Y [1781 

burthensome in less than a week. A man that has 
been clothed in fine linen, and fared sumptuously 
every day, envies the peasant under a thatched hovel ; 
who, in return, envies him as much his palace and his 
pleasure-ground. Could they change situations, the 
fine gentleman would find his ceilings were too low, 
and that his casements admitted too much wind ; that 
he had no cellar for his wine, and no wine to put in 
his cellar. These, with a thousand other mortifying 
deficiencies, would shatter his romantic project into 
innumerable fragments in a moment. The clown, at 
the same time, would find the accession of so much 
unwieldy treasure an incumbrance quite incompatible 
with an hour's ease. His choice would be puzzled by 
variety. He would drink to excess, because he would 
foresee no end of his abundance ; and he would eat 
himself sick for the same reason. He would have no 
idea of any other happiness than sensual gratification ; 
would make himself a beast, and die of his good 
fortune. The rich gentleman had, perhaps, or might 
have had, if he pleased, at the shortest notice, just 
such a recess as this ; but if he had it, he overlooked 
it, or, if he had it not, forgot that he might command 
it whenever he would. The rustic too, was actually 
in possession of some blessings, which he was a fool 
to relinquish, but which he could neither see nor feel, 
because he had the daily and constant use of them ; 
such as good health, bodily strength, a head and 
a heart that never ached, and temperance, to the 
practice of which he was bound by necessity, that, 



1781] TO THE REV. JOHN NEWTON 137 

humanly speaking, was a pledge and a security for 
the continuance of them all. 

Thus I have sent you a schoolboy's theme. When 
I write to you, I do not write without thinking, but 
always without premeditation : the consequence is, 
that such thoughts as pass through my head when I 
am not writing, make the subject of my letters to you. 

Johnson sent me lately a sort of apology for his 
printer's negligence, with his promise of greater dili- 
gence for the future. There was need enough of both. 
I have received but one sheet since you left us. Still, 
indeed, I see that there is time enough before us ; but 
I see likewise that no length of time can be sufficient 
for the accomplishment of a work that does not go 
forward. I know not yet whether he will add Con- 
versation to those poems already in his hands, nor do 
I care much. No man ever wrote such quantities of 
verse, as I have written this last year, with so much 
indifference about the event, or rather, with so little 
ambition of public praise. My pieces are such as 
may possibly be made useful. The more they are 
approved, the more likely they are to spread, and 
consequently the more likely to attain the end of 
usefulness ; which, as I said once before, except my 
present amusement, is the only end I propose. And 
even in the pursuit of this purpose, commendable as 
it is in itself, I have not the spur I should once have 
had; my labour must go unrewarded, and as Mr. 
Raban once said, I am raising a scaffold before a 
house that others are to live in, and not I. 



138 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1781 

I have left myself no room for politics, which I 
thought, when I began, would have been my principal 
theme. 

Mr. Symonds's letters certainly are not here. Our 
servants never touch a paper without leave, and are 
so observant of our injunction in this particular, that 
unless I burn the covers of the news, they accumulate 
till they make a litter. Yours, my dear sir, 

WM. COWPER. 



LXIV 

To the Rev. John Newton. 

Aug. 21, 1781. 

MY DEAR FRIEND, 

You wish you could employ your time to better 
purpose, yet are never idle. In all that you say or 
do; whether you are alone, or pay visits, or receive 
them ; whether you think or write, or walk or sit still ; 
the state of your mind is such as discovers even to 
yourself, in spite of all its wanderings, that there is a 
principle at bottom whose determined tendency is 
towards the best things. I do not at all doubt the 
truth of what you say, when you complain of that 
crowd of trifling thoughts that pesters you without 
ceasing ; but then you always have a serious thought 
standing at the door of your imagination, like a justice 
of peace with the riot-act in his hand, ready to read 
it, and disperse the mob. Here lies the difference 
between you and me. My thoughts are clad in a 



1781] TO THE REV. JOHN NEWTON 139 

sober livery, for the most part as grave as that of a 
bishop's servants. They turn too upon spiritual 
subjects, but the tallest fellow and the loudest 
amongst them all, is he who is continually crying 
with a loud voice, Actum est de te ; periisti! You 
wish for more attention, I for less. Dissipation itself 
would be welcome to me, so it were not a vicious 
one ; but however earnestly invited, is coy, and keeps 
at a distance. Yet with all this distressing gloom 
upon my mind, I experience, as you do, the slipperi- 
ness of the present hour, and the rapidity with which 
time escapes me. Every thing around us, and every 
thing that befalls us, constitutes a variety, which, 
whether agreeable or otherwise, has still a thievish 
propensity, and steals from us days, months, and 
years, with such unparalleled address, that even while 
we say they are here, they are gone. From infancy 
to manhood is rather a tedious period, chiefly, I 
suppose, because at that time we act under the con- 
troul of others, and are not suffered to have a will of 
our own. But thence downward into the vale of 
years, is such a declivity, that we have just an oppor- 
tunity to reflect upon the steepness of it, and then 
find ourselves at the bottom. 

Here is a new scene opening, which, whether it 
perform what it promises or not, will add fresh plumes 
to the wings of time ; at least while it continues to be 
a subject of contemplation. If the project take effect, 
a thousand varieties will attend the change it will make 
in our situation at Olney. If not, it will serve, how- 



140 . LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1781 

ever, to speculate and converse upon, and steal away 
many hours, by engaging our attention, before it be 
entirely dropped. Lady Austen, very desirous of re- 
tirement, especially of a retirement near her sister, an 
admirer of Mr. Scott as a preacher, and of your two 
humble servants now in the greenhouse, as the most 
agreeable creatures in the world, is at present deter- 
mined to settle here. That part of our great building 
which is at present occupied by Dick Coleman, his 
wife, child, and a thousand rats, is the corner of the 
world she chooses, above all others, as the place of 
her future residence. Next spring twelvemonth she 
begins to repair and beautify, and the following winter 
(by which time the lease of her house in town will 
determine) she intends to take possession. I am 
highly pleased with the plan, upon Mrs. Unwin's 
account who, since Mrs. Newton's departure, is 
destitute of all female connexion, and has not, in 
any emergency, a woman to speak to. Mrs. Scott is 
indeed in the neighbourhood, and an excellent person, 
but always engaged by a close attention to her family, 
and no more than ourselves a lover of visiting. But 
these things are all at present in the clouds. Two 
years must intervene, and in two years not only this 
project, but all the projects in Europe may be dis- 
concerted. 



Cocoa-nut naught, 
Fish too dear, 
None must be bought 
For us that are here. 



1781] TO THE REV. JOHN NEWTON 141 

No lobster on earth, 
That ever I saw, 
To me would be worth 
Sixpence a claw. 

So, dear madam, wait 
Till fish can be got 
At a reas'nable rate, 
Whether lobster or not ; 

Till the French and the Dutch 
Have quitted the seas, 
And then send as much 
And as oft as you please. 

Yours, my dear sir, 

vv . \^>* 



LXV 

To the Rev. William Unwin. 

August 25, 1781. 

MY DEAR FRIEND, 

We rejoice with you sincerely in the birth of 
another son, and in the prospect you have of Mrs. 
Unwin's recovery ; may your three children, and the 
next three, when they shall make their appearance, 
prove so many blessings to their parents, and make 
you wish that you had twice the number. But what 
made you expect daily that you should hear from me? 
Letter for letter is the law of all correspondence what- 
soever, and because I wrote last, I have indulged my- 
self for some time in expectation of a sheet from you. 
Not that I govern myself entirely by the punctilio of 



142 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1781 

reciprocation, but having been pretty much occupied 
of late, I was not sorry to find myself at liberty to 
exercise my discretion, and furnished with a good 
excuse if I chose to be silent. 

I expected, as you remember, to have been published 
last spring, and was disappointed. The delay has 
afforded me an opportunity to increase the quantity 
of my publication by about a third ; and if my muse 
has not forsaken me, which I rather suspect to be the 
case, may possibly yet add to it. I have a subject 
in hand, which promises me a great abundance of 
poetical matter, but which, for want of a something I 
am not able to describe, I cannot at present proceed 
with. The name of it is ''Retirement" and my 
purpose, to recommend the proper improvement of 
it, to set forth the requisites for that end, and to 
enlarge upon the happiness of that state of life, when 
managed as it ought to be. In the course of my 
journey through this ample theme, I should wish to 
touch upon the characters, the deficiencies, and the 
mistakes of thousands, who enter on a scene of retire- 
ment, unqualified for it in every respect, and with 
such designs as have no tendency to promote either 
their own happiness or that of others. But as I have 
told you before, there are times when I am no more 
a poet than I am a mathematician ; and when such 
a time occurs, I always think it better to give up the 
point, than to labour it in vain. I shall yet again be 
obliged to trouble you for franks; the addition of 
three thousand lines, or near that number, having 



1781] TO THE REV. WILLIAM UNWIN 143 

occasioned a demand which I did not always foresee : 
but your obliging friend, and your obliging self, having 
allowed me the liberty of application, I make it 
without apology. 

The solitude, or rather the duality of our condition 
at Olney, seems drawing to a conclusion. You have 
not forgot, perhaps, that the building we inhabit 
consists of two mansions. And because you have 
only seen the inside of that part of it which is in our 
occupation, I therefore inform you, that the other end 
of it is by far the most superb, as well as the most 
commodious. Lady Austen has seen it, has set her 
heart upon it, is going to fit it up and furnish it, and 
if she can get rid of the remaining two years of the 
lease of her London house, will probably enter upon 
it in a twelvemonth. You will be pleased with this 
intelligence, because I have already told you, that she 
is a woman perfectly well bred, sensible, and in every 
respect agreeable; and above all, because she loves 
your mother dearly. It has in my eyes, (and I doubt 
not it will have the same in yours,) strong marks of 
providential interposition. A female friend, and one 
who bids fair to prove herself worthy of the appella- 
tion, comes, recommended by a variety of considera- 
tions, to such a place as Olney. Since Mr. Newton 
went, and till this lady came, there was not in the 
kingdom a retirement more absolutely such than ours. 
We did not want company, but when it came, we 
found it agreeable. A person that has seen much of 
the world, and understands it well, has high spirits, 



144 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1781 

a lively fancy, and great readiness of conversation, 
introduces a sprightliness into such a scene as this, 
which, if it was peaceful before, is not the worse for 
being a little enlivened. In case of illness too, to 
which all are liable, it was rather a gloomy prospect, 
if we allowed ourselves to advert to it, that there was 
hardly a woman in the place from whom it would 
have been reasonable to have expected either comfort 
or assistance. The present curate's wife is a valuable 
person, but has a family of her own, and though a 
neighbour, is not a very near one. But if this plan 
is effected, we shall be in a manner one family, and 
I suppose never pass a day without some intercourse 
with each other. 

Your mother sends her warm affections, and wel- 
comes into the world the new-born William. Yours, 
my dear friend, w 

W v> 



LXVI 

To Mrs. Newton. 

Sept. 16, 1781. 

A NOBLE theme demands a noble verse, 

In such I thank you for your fine oysters. 

The barrel was magnificently large, 

But being sent to Olney at free charge, 

Was not inserted in the driver's list, 

And therefore overlook'd, forgot, or miss'd ; 

For when the messenger whom we dispatch 'd 

Enquired for oysters, Hob his noddle scratch'd, 



1781] TO MRS. NEWTON 145 

Denying that his waggon or his wain 

Did any such commodity contain. 

In consequence of which, your welcome boon 

Did not arrive till yesterday at noon ; 

In consequence of which some chanced to die, 

And some, though very sweet, were very dry. 

Now Madam says, (and what she says must still 

Deserve attention, say she what she will,) 

That what we call the Diligence, be-case 

It goes to London with a swifter pace, 

Would better suit the carriage of your gift, 

Returning downward with a pace as swift ; 

And therefore recommends it with this aim 

To save at least three days, the price the same ; 

For though it will not carry or convey 

For less than twelve pence, send whate'er you may, 

For oysters bred upon the salt sea shore, 

Pack'd in a barrel, they will charge no more. 

News have I none that I can deign to write, 
Save that it rain'd prodigiously last night ; 
And that ourselves were, at the seventh hour, 
Caught in the first beginning of the shower ; 
But walking, running, and with much ado, 
Got home just time enough to be wet through. 
Yet both are well, and wond'rous to be told, 
Soused as we were, we yet have caught no cold ; 
And wishing just the same good hap to you, 
We say, good Madam, and good Sir, Adieu ! 



VOL. I 



146 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1781 

LXVII 

To the Rev. John Newton. 

THE GREENHOUSE, Sept. 18, 1781. 
MY DEAR FRIEND, 

I return your preface, with many thanks for so 
affectionate an introduction to the public I have 
observed nothing that in my judgement required 
alteration, except a single sentence in the first para- 
graph, which I have not obliterated, that you may 
restore it if you please, by obliterating my interlinea- 
tion. My reason for proposing an amendment of it 
was, that your meaning did not strike me, which 
therefore I have endeavoured to make more obvious. 
The rest is what I would wish it to be. You say, 
indeed, more in my commendation, than I can 
modestly say of myself: but something will be 
allowed to the partiality of friendship, on so interest- 
ing an occasion. 

I have no objection in the world to your conveying 
a copy to Dr. Johnson ; though I well know that one 
of his pointed sarcasms, if he should happen to be 
displeased, would soon find its way into all companies, 
and spoil the sale. He writes, indeed, like a man 
that thinks a great deal, and that sometimes thinks 
religiously : but report informs me that he has been 
severe enough in his animadversions upon Dr. Watts, 
who was nevertheless, if I am in any degree a judge 
of verse, a man of true poetical ability; careless, 
indeed, for the most part, and inattentive too often to 



1781] TO THE REV. JOHN NEWTON 147 

those niceties which constitute elegance of expression, 
but frequently sublime in his conceptions, and masterly 
in his execution. Pope, I have heard, had placed him 
once in the Dunciad; but on being advised to read 
before he judged him, was convinced that he deserved 
other treatment, and thrust somebody's blockhead into 
the gap, whose name, consisting of a monosyllable, 
happened to fit it. Whatever faults, however, I may 
be chargeable with as a poet, I cannot accuse myself 
of negligence. I never suffer a line to pass till I have 
made it as good as I can ; and though my doctrines 
may offend this king of critics, he will not, I flatter 
myself, be disgusted by slovenly inaccuracy, either in 
the numbers, rhymes, or language. Let the rest take 
its chance. It is possible he may be pleased ; and if 
he should, I shall have engaged on my side one of 
the best trumpeters in the kingdom. Let him only 
speak as favourably of me as he has spoken of Sir 
Richard Blackmore (who, though he shines in his 
poem called Creation, has written more absurdities 
in verse than any writer of our country), and my 
success will be secured. 

I have often promised myself a laugh with you 
about your pipe, but have always forgotten it when I 
have been writing, and at present I am not much in 
a laughing humour. You will observe, however, for 
your comfort and the honour of that same pipe, that 
it hardly falls within the line of my censure. You 
never fumigate the ladies, or force them out of com- 
pany; nor do you use it as an incentive to hard 



I 4 8 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1781 

drinking. Your friends, indeed, have reason to com- 
plain that it frequently deprives them of the pleasure 
of your own conversation while it leads you either 
into your study or your garden; but in all other 
respects it is as innocent a pipe as can be. Smoke 
away, therefore; and remember that if one poet has 
condemned the practice, a better than he (the witty 
and elegant Hawkins Browne,) has been warm in the 
praise of it. 

Retirement grows, but more slowly than any of its 
predecessors. Time was when I could with ease pro- 
duce fifty, sixty, or seventy lines in a morning : now, 
I generally fall short of thirty, and am sometimes 
forced to be content with a dozen. It consists at 
present, I suppose, of between six and seven hundred ; 
so that there are hopes of an end, and I dare say 
Johnson will give me time enough to finish it. 

I nothing add but this that still I am 
Your most affectionate and humble 

WILLIAM. 

LXVIII 

To the Rev. William Unwin. 

Sept. 26, 1781. 

MY DEAR FRIEND, 

I may, I suppose, congratulate you on your safe 
arrival at Brighthelmstone ; and am the better pleased 
with your design to close the summer there, because 
I am acquainted with the place, and, by the assistance 



1781] TO THE REV. WILLIAM UNWIN 149 

of fancy, can without much difficulty join myself to 
the party, and partake with you in your amusements 
and excursions. It happened singularly enough, that 
just before I received your last, in which you apprize 
me of your intended journey, I had been writing upon 
the subject, having found occasion towards the close 
of my last poem, called Retirement, to take some 
notice of the modern passion for sea-side entertain- 
ments, and to direct to the means by which they 
might be made useful as well as agreeable. I think 
with you, that the most magnificent object under 
heaven is the great deep; and cannot but feel an 
unpolite species of astonishment, when I consider the 
multitudes that view it without emotion, and even 
without reflection. In all its various forms, it is an 
object of all others the most suited to affect us with 
lasting impressions of the awful Power that created 
and controls it. I am the less inclined to think this 
negligence excusable, because, at a time of life when 
I gave as little attention to religious subjects as 
almost any man, I yet remember that the waves would 
preach to me, and that in the midst of dissipation I 
had an ear to hear them. One of Shakespeare's char- 
acters says, " I am never merry when I hear sweet 
music." The same effect that harmony seems to 
have had upon him, I have experienced from the 
sight and sound of the ocean, which have often com- 
posed my thoughts into a melancholy not unpleasing, 
nor without its use. So much for Signor Netuno. 
Lady Austen goes to London this day se'nnight. 



150 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1781 

We have told her that you shall visit her ; which is an 
enterprise you may engage in with the more alacrity, 
because as she loves every thing that has any con- 
nexion with your mother, she is sure to feel a 
sufficient partiality for her son. Add to this, that 
your own personal recommendations are by no means 
small, or such as a woman of her fine taste and discern- 
ment can possibly overlook. She has many features 
in her character which you will admire ; but one, in 
particular, on account of the rarity of it, will engage 
your attention and esteem. She has a degree of 
gratitude in her composition, so quick a sense of 
obligation, as is hardly to be found in any rank of 
life, and, if report say true, is scarce indeed in the 
superior. Discover but a wish to please her, and she 
never forgets it ; not only thanks you, but the tears 
will start into her eyes at the recollection of the 
smallest service. With these fine feelings she has the 
most, and the most harmless vivacity you can imagine. 
In short, she is what you will find her to be, upon 
half an hour's conversation with her ; and when I hear 
you have a journey to town in contemplation, I will 
send you her address. 

Your mother is well, and joins with me in wishing 
that you may spend your time agreeably upon the 
coast of Sussex. Yours, w r 

VV ^. 



1781] TO THE REV. WILLIAM UNWIN 151 

LXIX 

To the Rev. William Unwin. 

October 6, 1781. 

MY DEAR FRIEND, 

What a world are you daily conversant with, which 
I have not seen these twenty years, and shall never 
see again ! The arts of dissipation (I suppose) are 
no where practised with more refinement or success 
than at the place of your present residence. By your 
account of it, it seems to be just what it was when 
I visited it, a scene of idleness and luxury, music, 
dancing, cards, walking, riding, bathing, eating, drink- 
ing, coffee, tea, scandal, dressing, yawning, sleeping; 
the rooms perhaps more magnificent, because the 
proprietors are grown richer, but the manners and 
occupations of the company just the same. Though 
my life has long been like that of a recluse, I have not 
the temper of one, nor am I in the least an enemy to 
cheerfulness and good humour; but I cannot envy 
you your situation ; I even feel myself constrained to 
prefer the silence of this nook, and the snug fireside 
in our own diminutive parlour, to all the splendour 
and gaiety of Brighton. 

You ask me, how I feel on the occasion of my 
approaching publication. Perfectly at my ease. If 
I had not been pretty well assured before hand that 
my tranquillity would be but little endangered by 
such a measure, I would never have engaged in it; 
for I cannot bear disturbance. I have had in view 



152 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1781 

two principal objects ; first, to amuse myself, and 
secondly, to compass that point in such a manner, that 
others might possibly be the better for my amuse- 
ment. If I have succeeded, it will give me pleasure ; 
but if I have failed, I shall not be mortified to the 
degree that might perhaps be expected. I remember 
an old adage, (though not where it is to be found,) 
" bent vixit, qui bene latuit" and if I had recollected 
it at the right time, it should have been the motto to 
my book. By the way, it will make an excellent one 
for Retirement, if you can but tell me whom to quote 
for it. The critics cannot deprive me of the pleasure 
I have in reflecting, that so far as my leisure has 
been employed in writing for the public, it has been 
conscientiously employed, and with a view to their 
advantage. There is nothing agreeable, to be sure, 
in being chronicled for a dunce ; but I believe there 
lives not a man upon earth who would be less 
affected by it than myself. With all this indifference 
to fame, which you know me too well to suppose me 
capable of affecting, I have taken the utmost pains to 
deserve it. This may appear a mystery or a paradox 
in practice, but it is true. I considered that the taste 
of the day is refined, and delicate to excess, and that 
to disgust the delicacy of taste, by a slovenly inatten- 
tion to it, would be to forfeit at once all hope of 
being useful ; and for this reason, though I have 
written more verse this last year than perhaps any 
man in England, I have finished, and polished, and 
touched, and retouched, with the utmost care. If 



1781] TO THE REV. WILLIAM UN WIN 153 

after all I should be converted into waste paper, it 
may be my misfortune, but it will not be my fault. 
I shall bear it with the most perfect serenity. 

I do not mean to give a copy : he is a good- 
natured little man, and crows exactly like a cock, but 
knows no more of verse than the cock he imitates. 

Whoever supposes that Lady Austen's fortune is 
precarious, is mistaken. I can assure you, upon the 
ground of the most circumstantial and authentic in- 
formation, that it is both genteel and perfectly safe. 

~ Yours ' w. c. 

LXX 

To Mrs. Cowper. 

Oct. 19, 1781. 

MY DEAR COUSIN, 

Your fear lest I should think you unworthy of my 
correspondence, on account of your delay to answer, 
may change sides now, and more properly belongs to 
me. It is long since I received your last, and yet 
I believe I can say truly, that not a post has gone by 
me since the receipt of it that has not reminded me of 
the debt I owe you, for your obliging and unreserved 
communications both in prose and verse, especially 
for the latter, because I consider them as marks of 
your peculiar confidence. The truth is, I have been 
such a verse-maker myself, and so busy in preparing 
a volume for the press, which I imagine will make its 
appearance in the course of the winter, that I hardly 



154 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1781 

had leisure to listen to the calls of any other engage- 
ment. It is however finished, and gone to the 
printer's, and I have nothing now to do with it, but 
to correct the sheets as they are sent to me, and 
consign it over to the judgement of the public. It is 
a bold undertaking at this time of day, when so many 
writers of the greatest abilities have gone before, who 
seem to have anticipated every valuable subject, as 
well as all the graces of poetical embellishment, to 
step forth into the world in the character of a bard, 
especially when it is considered, that luxury, idle- 
ness, and vice, have debauched the public taste, and 
that nothing hardly is welcome but childish fiction, 
or what has at least a tendency to excite a laugh. I 
thought, however, that I had stumbled upon some 
subjects, that had never before been poetically treated, 
and upon some others, to which I imagined it would 
not be difficult to give an air of novelty by the manner 
of treating them. My sole drift is to be useful; a 
point which however I knew I should in vain aim at, 
unless I could be likewise entertaining. I have there- 
fore fixed these two strings upon my bow, and by the 
help of both have done my best to send my arrow to 
the mark. My readers will hardly have begun to 
laugh, before they will be called upon to correct that 
levity, and peruse me with a more serious air. As to 
the effect, I leave it alone in His hands, who can alone 
produce it : neither prose nor verse can reform the 
manners of a dissolute age, much less can they inspire 
a sense of religious obligation, unless assisted and 



1781] TO MRS. COWPER 155 

made efficacious by the power who superintends the 
truth he has vouchsafed to impart. 

You made my heart ache with a sympathetic 
sorrow, when you described the state of your mind 
on occasion of your late visit into Hertfordshire. 
Had I been previously informed of your journey 
before you made it, I should have been able to have 
foretold all your feelings with the most unerring 
certainty of prediction. You will never cease to feel 
upon that subject ; but with your principles of resigna- 
tion, and acquiescence in the divine will, you will 
always feel as becomes a Christian. We are forbidden 
to murmur, but we are not forbidden to regret ; and 
whom we loved tenderly while living we may still 
pursue with an affectionate remembrance, without 
having any occasion to charge ourselves with rebel- 
lion against the sovereignty that appointed a separa- 
tion. A day is coming when I am confident you 
will see and know, that mercy to both parties was 
the principal agent in a scene, the recollection of 

which is still painful. 

vv . \^* 



LXXI 

To the Rev. William Unwin. 

Nov. 24, 1781. 

MY DEAR FRIEND, 

News is always acceptable, especially from another 
world. I cannot tell you what has been done in the 



156 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1781 

Chesapeake, but I can tell you what has passed at 
West Wycombe, in this county. Do you feel yourself 
disposed to give credit to the story of an apparition ? 
No, say you. I am of your mind. I do not believe 
more than one in a hundred of those tales with which 
old women frighten children, and teach children to 
frighten each other. But you are not such a philoso- 
pher, I suppose, as to have persuaded yourself that an 
apparition is an impossible thing. You can attend to 
a story of that sort, if well authenticated ? Yes. Then 
I can tell you one. 

You have heard, no doubt, of the romantic friend- 
ship that subsisted once between Paul Whitehead, and 
Lord le Despenser, the late Sir Francis Dashwood. 
When Paul died, he left his lordship a legacy. It was 
his heart, which was taken out of his body, and sent 
as directed. His friend having built a church, and at 
that time just finished it, used it as a mausoleum upon 
this occasion ; and having (as I think the newspapers 
told us at the time) erected an elegant pillar in the 
centre of it, on the summit of this pillar, enclosed in a 
golden urn, he placed the heart in question. But not 
as a lady places a china figure upon her mantel-tree, 
or on the top of her cabinet, but with much respectful 
ceremony, and all the forms of funeral solemnity. He 
hired the best singers and best performers. He com- 
posed an anthem for the purpose, he invited all the 
nobility and gentry in the country to assist at the 
celebration of these obsequies, and having formed 
them all into an august procession, marched to the 



1781] TO THE REV. WILLIAM UNWIN 157 

place appointed at their head, and consigned the 
posthumous treasure, with his own hands, to its state 
of honourable elevation. Having thus, as he thought, 
(and as he might well think, for it seems they were 
both renowned for their infidelity, and if they had 
any religion at all were pagans,) appeased the manes 
of the deceased, he rested satisfied with what he 
had done, and supposed his friend would rest. But 
not so ; about a week since, I received a letter from a 
person, who cannot have been misinformed, telling me 
that Paul has appeared frequently of late to his Lord- 
ship, who labours under a complication of distempers, 
that it is supposed the shock he has suffered from 
such unexpected visits will make his recovery, which 
was before improbable, impossible. Nor is this all : 
to ascertain the fact, and to put it out of the power 
of scepticism to argue away the reality of it, there are 
few, if any, of his lordship's numerous household, who 
have not likewise seen him, sometimes in the park, 
sometimes in the garden, as well as in the house, by 
day and by night, indifferently. I make no reflections 
upon this incident, having other things to write about, 
and but little room. 

I am much indebted to Mr. Smith for more franks, 
and still more obliged by the handsome note with 
which he accompanied them. He has furnished me 
sufficiently for the present occasion, and by his readi- 
ness, and obliging manner of doing it, encouraged me 
to have recourse to him, in case another exigence of 
the same kind should offer. A French author I was 



158 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1781 

reading last night says, He that has written, will write 
again. If the critics do not set their foot upon this 
first egg that I have laid, and crush it, I shall probably 
verify his observation; and when I feel my spirits 
rise, and that I am armed with industry sufficient for 
the purpose, undertake the production of another 
volume. At present, however, I do not feel myself 
so disposed ; and, indeed, he that would write, should 
read, not that he may retail the observations of other 
men, but that, being thus refreshed and replenished, 
he may find himself in a condition to make and to 
produce his own. I reckon it among my principal 
advantages, as a composer of verses, that I have not 
read an English poet these thirteen years, and but 
one these twenty years. Imitation, even of the best 
models, is my aversion ; it is servile and mechanical, 
a trick that has enabled many to usurp the name of 
author, who could not have written at all, if they had 
not written upon the pattern of somebody indeed 
original. But when the ear and the taste have been 
much accustomed to the manner of others, it is almost 
impossible to avoid it; and we imitate in spite of 
ourselves, just in proportion as we admire. But 
enough of this. 

Your mother, who is as well as the season of the 
year will permit, desires me to add her love. The 
salmon you sent us arrived safe, and was remarkably 
fresh. What a comfort it is to have a friend who 
knows that we love salmon, and who cannot pass by 
a fishmonger's shop, without finding his desire to send 



1781] TO THE REV. WILLIAM UN WIN 159 

us some, a temptation too strong to be resisted ! 
Yours, my dear friend, vy p 



LXXII 

To the Rev. William Unwin. 

Nov. 26, 1781. 

MY DEAR FRIEND, 

I wrote to you by the last post, supposing you at 
Stock; but lest that letter should not follow you to 
Laytonstone, and you should suspect me of unreason- 
able delay, and lest the frank you have sent me 
should degenerate into waste paper, and perish upon 
my hands, I write again. The former letter, however, 
containing all my present stock of intelligence, it is 
more than possible that this may prove a blank, or but 
little worthy of your acceptance. You will do me the 
justice to suppose, that if I could be very entertaining, 
I would be so, because, by giving me credit for such 
a willingness to please, you only allow me a share of 
that universal vanity, which inclines every man, upon 
all occasions, to exhibit himself to the best advantage. 
To say the truth, however, when I write, as I do to 
you, not about business, nor on any subject that 
approaches to that description, I mean much less my 
correspondent's amusement, which my modesty will 
not always permit me to hope for, than my own. 
There is a pleasure annexed to the communication of 
one's ideas, whether by word of mouth, or by letter, 
which nothing earthly can supply the place of, and it 



160 LE TTERS FROM OLNE Y [ 1 78 1 

is the delight we find in this mutual intercourse, that 
not only proves us to be creatures intended for social 
life, but more than any thing else perhaps fits us for 
it. I have no patience with philosophers; they, one 
and all, suppose (at least I understand it to be a pre- 
vailing opinion among them) that man's weakness, his 
necessities, his inability to stand alone, have furnished 
the prevailing motive, under the influence of which 
he renounced at first a life of solitude, and became a 
gregarious creature. It seems to me more reasonable, 
as well as more honourable to my species, to suppose, 
that generosity of soul, and a brotherly attachment to 
our own kind, drew us, as it were, to one common 
centre, taught us to build cities, and inhabit them, 
and welcome every stranger, that would cast in his 
lot amongst us, that we might enjoy fellowship with 
each other, and the luxury of reciprocal endearments, 
without which a paradise could afford no comfort. 
There are indeed all sorts of characters in the world ; 
there are some whose understandings are so sluggish, 
and whose hearts are such mere clods, that they live 
in society without either contributing to the sweets 
of it, or having any relish for them. A man of this 
stamp passes by our window continually; he draws 
patterns for the lace makers ; I never saw him con- 
versing with a neighbour but once in my life, though 
I have known him by sight these twelve years ; he is 
of a very sturdy make, has a round belly, extremely 
protuberant, which he evidently considers as his best 
friend, because it is his only companion, and it is the 



1781] TO THE REV. WILLIAM UNWIN 161 

labour of his life to fill it. I can easily conceive, that 
it is merely the love of good eating and drinking, and 
now and then the want of a new pair of shoes, that 
attaches this man so much to the neighbourhood of 
his fellow mortals ; for suppose these exigencies, and 
others of a like kind, to subsist no longer, and what 
is there that could possibly give society the preference 
in his esteem ? He might strut about with his two 
thumbs upon his hips in a wilderness; he could 
hardly be more silent than he is at Olney, and for 
any advantage, or comfort, or friendship, or brotherly 
affection, he could not be more destitute of such 
blessings there, than in his present situation. But 
other men have something more than guts to satisfy ; 
there are the yearnings of the heart, which, let philo- 
sophers say what they will, are more importunate 
than all the necessities of the body, that will not suffer 
a creature, worthy to be called human, to be content 
with an insulated life, or to look for his friends among 
the beasts of the forest. Yourself for instance ! It is 
not because there are no tailors or pastry-cooks to be 
found upon Salisbury Plain, that you do not choose it 
for your abode, but because you are a philanthropist, 
because you are susceptible of social impressions, 
and have a pleasure in doing a kindness when you 
can. Witness the salmon you sent, and the salmon 
you still mean to send ; to which your mother wishes 
you to add a handful of prawns, not only because she 
likes them, but because they agree with her so well 
that she even finds them medicinal. 

VOL. I M 



162 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1781 

Now upon the word of a poor creature, I have said 
all that I have said, without the least intention to say 
one word of it when I began. But thus it is with my 
thoughts : when you shake a crab-tree, the fruit falls ; 
good for nothing indeed when you have got it, but 
still the best that is to be expected from a crab-tree. 
You are welcome to them, such as they are, and if you 
approve my sentiments, tell the philosophers of the 
day, that I have outshot them all, and have discovered 
the true origin of society, when I least looked for it. 

We should be glad to receive this fresh proof of 
your regard, viz. the additional piece of salmon, at 
any time before Christmas. 



LXXIII 

To the Rev. John Newton. 

Dec. 4, 1781. 

MY DEAR FRIEND, 

The present to the Queen of France, and the 
piece addressed to Sir Joshua Reynolds, my only 
two political efforts, being of the predictive kind, and 
both falsified, or likely to be so, by the miscarriage of 
the royal cause in America, were already condemned 
when I received your last. I have a poetical epistle 
which I wrote last summer, and another poem not 
yet finished, in stanzas, with which I mean to supply 
their places. Henceforth I have done with politics. 
The stage of national affairs is such a fluctuating 



1781] TO THE REV. JOHN NEWTON 163 

scene, that an event which appears probable to-day 
becomes impossible to-morrow; and unless a man 
were indeed a prophet, he cannot, but with the 
greatest hazard of losing his labour, bestow his rhymes 
upon future contingencies, which perhaps are never to 
take place but in his own wishes and in the reveries 
of his own fancy. I learned when I was a boy, being 
the son of a staunch Whig, and a man that loved his 
country, to glow with that patriotic enthusiasm which 
is apt to break forth into poetry, or at least to prompt 
a person, if he has any inclination that way, to 
poetical endeavours. Prior's pieces of that sort were 
recommended to my particular notice; and as that 
part of the present century was a season when clubs 
of a political character, and consequently political 
songs, were much in fashion, the best in that style, 
some written by Rowe, and I think some by Congreve, 
and many by other wits of the day, were proposed to 
my admiration. Being grown up, I became desirous 
of imitating such bright examples, and while I lived 
in the Temple produced several halfpenny ballads, 
two or three of which had the honour to be popular. 
What we learn in childhood we retain long ; and the 
successes we met with, about three years ago, when 
D'Estaing was twice repulsed, once in America, and 
once in the West Indies, having set fire to my 
patriotic zeal once more, it discovered itself by the 
same symptoms, and produced effects much like 
those it had produced before. But, unhappily, the 
ardour I felt upon the occasion, disdaining to be 



164 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1781 

confined within the bounds of fact, pushed me upon 
uniting the prophetical with the poetical character, 
and defeated its own purpose. I am glad it did. 
The less there is of that sort in my book the better ; 
it will be more consonant to your character, who 
patronise the volume, and, indeed, to the constant 
tenor of my own thoughts upon public matters, that 
I should exhort my countrymen to repentance, than 
that I should flatter their pride that vice for which, 
perhaps, they are even now so severely punished. 

I subjoin the lines with which I mean to supersede 
the obnoxious ones in Expostulation. If it should lie 
fairly in your way to do it, I will beg of you to deliver 
them to Johnson, and at the same time to strike your 
pen through the offensive passage. I ask it merely 
because it will save a frank, but not unless you can 
do it without inconvenience to yourself. The new 
paragraph consists exactly of the same number of 
lines with the old one, for upon this occasion I 
worked like a tailor when he sews a patch upon a 
hole in your coat, supposing it might be necessary to 
do so. Upon second thoughts I will enclose the 
lines instead of adding them ad calcem, that I may 
save you the trouble of a transcript. 

We are glad, for Mr. Barbara's sake, that he has 
been so happily disappointed. How little does the 
world suspect what passes in it every day ! that true 
religion is working the same wonders now as in the 
first ages of the church, that parents surrender up 
their children into the hands of God, to die at his 



1781] TO THE REV. JOHN NEWTON 165 

own appointed moment, and by what death he pleases, 
without a murmur, and receive them again as if by 
a resurrection from the dead ! The world, however, 
would be more justly chargeable with wilful blindness 
than it is, if all professors of the truth exemplified 
its power in their conduct as conspicuously as Mr. 
Bar ham. 

Easterly winds, and a state of confinement within 
our own walls, suit neither me nor Mrs. Unwin ; 
though we are both, to use the Irish term, rather un- 
well than ill. The cocoa nut, though it had not a 
drop of liquor in it, and though the kernel came out 
whole, entirely detached from the shell, was an exceed- 
ing good one. Our hearts are with you. Yours, my 
dear friend, w P 

Mrs. Madan is happy. She will be found tipe, fall 
when she may. 

We are sorry you speak doubtfully about a spring 
visit to Olney. Those doubts must not outlive the 
winter. 



LXXIV 
To Joseph Hill, Esq. 

Dec. 9, 1781. 

MY DEAR FRIEND, 

Having returned you many thanks for the fine cod 
and oysters you favoured me with, though it is now 
morning I will suppose it afternoon, that you and I 



166 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1781 

dined together, are comfortably situated by a good 
fire, and just entering on a sociable conversation. You 
speak first, because I am a man of few words. 

Well, Cowper, what do you think of this American 
war? 

/. To say the truth I am not very fond of thinking 
about it ; when I do I think of it, unpleasantly enough. 
I think it bids fair to be the ruin of the country. 

You. That's very unpleasant indeed ! If that 
should be the consequence, it will be the fault of those 
who might put a stop to it if they would. 

/. But do you really think that practicable ? 

You. Why not ? If people leave off fighting, peace 
follows of course. I wish they would withdraw the 
forces and put an end to the squabble. 

Now I am going to make a long speech. 

/ You know the complexion of my sentiments upon 
some subjects well enough, and that I do not look upon 
public events either as fortuitous, or absolutely deriv- 
able either from the wisdom or folly of man. These 
indeed operate as second causes ; but we must look 
for the cause of the decline or the prosperity of an 
empire elsewhere. I have long since done complain- 
ing of men and measures, having learned to consider 
them merely as the instruments of a higher Power, by 
which he either bestows wealth, peace, and dignity 
upon a nation when he favours it; or by which he 
strips it of all those honours, when public enormities 
long persisted in provoke him to inflict a public punish- 
ment The counsels of great men become as foolish 



1781] TO fOSEPH HILL, ESQ. 167 

and preposterous when he is pleased to make them so, 
as those of the frantic creatures in Bedlam, when they 
lay their distracted heads together to consider of the 
state of the nation. But I go still farther. The wis- 
dom, or the want of wisdom, that we observe or think 
we observe in those that rule us, entirely out of the 
question, I cannot look upon the circumstances of this 
country, without being persuaded that I discern in 
them an entanglement and perplexity that I have never 
met with in the history of any other, which I think 
preternatural (if I may use the word on such a sub- 
ject), prodigious in its kind, and such as human saga- 
city can never remedy. I have a good opinion of the 
understanding and integrity of some in power, yet I 
see plainly that they are unequal to the task. I think 
as favourably of some that are not in power, yet I am 
sure they have never yet in any of their speeches 
recommended the plan that would effect the salutary 
purpose. If we pursue the war, it is because we are 
desperate; it is plunging and sinking year after year 
into still greater depths of calamity. If we relinquish 
it, the remedy is equally desperate, and would prove I 
believe in the end no remedy at all. Either way we 
are undone. Perseverance will only enfeeble us more ; 
we cannot recover the colonies by arms. If we dis- 
continue the attempt, in that case we fling away volun- 
tarily what in the other we strive ineffectually to 
regain ; and whether we adopt the one measure or the 
other, are equally undone : for I consider the loss of 
America as the ruin of England. Were we less 



1 68 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1781 

encumbered than we are at home, we could but ill 
afford it ; but being crushed as we are under an enor- 
mous debt that the public credit can at no rate carry 
much longer, the consequence is sure. Thus it ap- 
pears to me that we are squeezed to death, between 
the two sides of that sort of alternative which is com- 
monly called a cleft stick, the most threatening and 
portentous condition in which the interests of any 
country can possibly be found. 

I think I have done pretty well for a man of few 
words, and have contrived to have all the talk to 
myself. I thank you for not interrupting me. Yours, 
my dear friend, WM. COWPER. 



LXXV 

To the Rev. William Unwin. 

Jan. 5, 1782. 

MY DEAR FRIEND, 

Did I allow myself to plead the common excuse of 
idle correspondents, and esteem it a sufficient reason 
for not writing, that I have nothing to write about, I 
certainly should not write now. But I have so often 
found, on similar occasions, when a great penury of 
matter has seemed to threaten me with an utter 
impossibility of hatching a letter, that nothing is 
necessary but to put pen to paper, and go on, in 
order to conquer all difficulties, that, availing myself 
of past experience, I now begin with a most assured 



1782] TO THE REV. WILLIAM UN WIN 169 

persuasion, that sooner or later, one idea naturally 
suggesting another, I shall come to a most prosperous 
conclusion. 

In the last Review, I mean in the last but one, I saw 
Johnson's critique upon Prior and Pope. I am bound 
to acquiesce in his opinion of the latter, because it has 
always been my own. I could never agree with those 
who preferred him to Dryden ; nor with others, (I have 
known such, and persons of taste and discernment 
too,) who could not allow him to be a poet at all. He 
was certainly a mechanical maker of verses, and in 
every line he ever wrote, we see indubitable marks of 
the most indefatigable industry and labour. Writers 
who find it necessary to make such strenuous and pain- 
ful exertions, are generally as phlegmatic as they are 
correct ; but Pope was, in this respect, exempted from 
the common lot of authors of that class. With the 
unwearied application of a plodding Flemish painter, 
who draws a shrimp with the most minute exactness, 
he had all the genius of one of the first masters. 
Never, I believe, were such talents and such drudgery 
united. But I admire Dryden most, who has succeeded 
by mere dint of genius, and in spite of a laziness and 
carelessness almost peculiar to himself. His faults are 
numberless, but so are his beauties. His faults are 
those of a great man, and his beauties are such, (at 
least sometimes,) as Pope, with all his touching and 
retouching, could never equal. So far, therefore, I 
have no quarrel with Johnson. But I cannot subscribe 
to what he says of Prior. In the first place, though 



170 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1782 

my memory may fail me, I do not recollect that he 
takes any notice of his Solomon ; in my mind the 
best poem, whether we consider the subject of it, or 
the execution, that he ever wrote. In the next place, 
he condemns him for introducing Venus and Cupid 
into his love-verses, and concludes it impossible his 
passion could be sincere, because when he would 
express it he has recourse to fables. But when Prior 
wrote, those deities were not so obsolete as now. His 
contemporary writers, and some that succeeded him, 
did not think them beneath their notice. Tibullus, 
in reality, disbelieved their existence as much as we 
do; yet Tibullus is allowed to be the prince of all 
poetical inamoratos, though he mentions them in 
almost every page. There is a fashion in these things, 
which the Doctor seems to have forgotten. But what 
shall we say of his old fusty-rusty remarks upon Henry 
and Emmal I agree with him, that morally con- 
sidered both the knight and his lady are bad char- 
acters, and that each exhibits an example which ought 
not to be followed. The man dissembles in a way 
that would have justified the woman had she renounced 
him ; and the woman resolves to follow him at the 
expense of delicacy, propriety, and even modesty 
itself. But when the critic calls it a dull dialogue, 
who but a critic will believe him? There are few 
readers of poetry of either sex, in this country, who 
cannot remember how that enchanting piece has 
bewitched them, who do not know, that instead of 
finding it tedious, they have been so delighted with 



1782] TO THE REV. WILLIAM UNWIN 171 

the romantic turn of it, as to have overlooked all its 
defects, and to have given it a consecrated place in 
their memories, without ever feeling it a burthen. I 
wonder almost, that, as the Bacchanals served Orpheus, 
the boys and girls do not tear this husky, dry com- 
mentator limb from limb, in resentment of such an 
injury done to their darling poet. I admire Johnson 
as a man of great erudition and sense ; but when he 
sets himself up for a judge of writers upon the subject 
of love, a passion which I suppose he never felt in his 
life, 1 he might as well think himself qualified to pro- 
nounce upon a treatise on horsemanship, or the art of 
fortification. 

The next packet I receive will bring me, I imagine, 
the last proof sheet of my volume, which will consist of 
about three hundred and fifty pages honestly printed. 
My public entrle therefore is not far distant. 

Had we known that the last cheeses were naught, 
we would not have sent you these. Your mother has 
however enquired for and found a better dairy, which 
she means shall furnish you with cheese another 
year. Yours, w c 

1 When he wrote thus, Cowper did not, and indeed could not, 
know what a fond and faithful husband Johnson had been to his 
Tetty. It was only the publication of Boswell's life which revealed 
to the world, what perhaps none could have suspected from his 
writings, the depth of tenderness of Johnson's affectionate heart. 



172 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1782 

LXXVI 

To the Rev. William Unwin. 

Jan. 17, 1782. 

MY DEAR WILLIAM, 

I am glad we agree in our opinion of King Critic, 
and the writers on whom he has bestowed his animad- 
versions. It is a matter of indifference to me whether 
I think with the world at large or not, but I wish my 
friends to be of my mind. The same work will wear 
a different appearance in the eyes of the same man 
according to the different views with which he reads 
it ; if merely for his amusement, his candour being in 
less danger of a twist from interest or prejudice, he is 
pleased with what is really pleasing, and is not over 
curious to discover a blemish, because the exercise of 
a minute exactness is not consistent with his purpose. 
But if he once becomes a critic by trade, the case is 
altered. He must then at any rate establish, if he 
can, an opinion in every mind, of his uncommon 
discernment, and his exquisite taste. This great end 
he can never accomplish by thinking in the track that 
has been beaten under the hoof of public judgement. 
He must endeavour to convince the world, that their 
favourite authors have more faults than they are aware 
of, and such as they have never suspected. Having 
marked out a writer universally esteemed, whom he 
finds it for that very reason convenient to depreciate 
and traduce, he will overlook some of his beauties, he 
will faintly praise others, and in such a manner as to 



1782] TO 7'HE REV. WILLIAM UNWIN 173 

make thousands, more modest, though quite as judici- 
ous as himself, question whether they are beauties at 
all. Can there be a stronger illustration of all that I 
have said, than the severity of Johnson's remarks upon 
Prior, I might have said the injustice ? His reputation 
as an author who, with much labour indeed, but with 
admirable success, has embellished all his poems with 
the most charming ease, stood unshaken till Johnson 
thrust his head against it. And how does he attack 
him in this his principal fort ? I cannot recollect his 
very words, but I am much mistaken indeed if my 
memory fails me with respect to the purport of them. 
" His words," he says, " appear to be forced into 
their proper places ; there indeed we find them, but 
find likewise that their arrangement has been the 
effect of constraint, and that without violence they 
would certainly have stood in a different order." By 
your leave, most learned Doctor, this is the most dis- 
ingenuous remark I ever met with, and would have 
come with a better grace from Curl or Dennis. Every 
man conversant with verse-writing knows, and knows 
by painful experience, that the familiar style is of all 
styles the most difficult to succeed in. To make verse 
speak the language of prose, without being prosaic, 
to marshal the words of it in such an order as they 
might naturally take in falling from the lips of an 
extemporary speaker, yet without meanness, harmo- 
niously, elegantly, and without seeming to displace a 
syllable for the sake of the rhyme, is one of the most 
arduous tasks a poet can undertake. He that could 



174 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1782 

accomplish this task was Prior ; many have imitated 
his excellence in this particular, but the best copies 
have fallen far short of the original. And now to tell 
us, after we and our fathers have admired him for it 
so long, that he is an easy writer indeed, but that his 
ease has an air of stiffness in it, in short, that his ease 
is not ease, but only something like it, what is it but a 
self-contradiction, an observation that grants what it is 
just going to deny, and denies what it has just granted, 
in the same sentence, and in the same breath ? But 
I have filled the greatest part of my sheet with a very 
uninteresting subject. I will only say, that as a nation 
we are not much indebted, in point of poetical credit, 
to this too sagacious and unmerciful judge ; and that 
for myself in particular, I have reason to rejoice that 
he entered upon and exhausted the labours of his 
office before my poor volume could possibly become 
an object of them. By the way, you cannot have a 
book at the time you mention ; I have lived a fortnight 
or more in expectation of the last sheet, which is not 
yet arrived. 

You have already furnished John's memory with by 
far the greatest part of what a parent would wish to 
store it with. If all that is merely trivial, and all that 
has an immoral tendency, were expunged from our 
English poets, how would they shrink, and how would 
some of them completely vanish ! I believe there are 
some of Dryden's Fables which he would find very 
entertaining; they are for the most part fine com- 
positions, and not above his apprehension ; but Dryden 



1782] TO THE REV. WILLIAM UNWIN 175 

has written few things that are not blotted here and 
there with an unchaste allusion, so that you must pick 
his way for him, lest he should tread in the dirt. You 
did not mention Milton's Allegro and Penseroso, 
which I remember being so charmed with when I was 
a boy that I was never weary of them. There are even 
passages in the paradisiacal part of the Paradise Lost, 
which he might study with advantage. And to teach 
him, as you can, to deliver some of the fine orations 
made in the Pandaemonium, and those between Satan, 
Ithuriel, and Zephon, with emphasis, dignity, and pro- 
priety, might be of great use to him hereafter. The 
sooner the ear is formed, and the organs of speech 
are accustomed to the various inflections of the voice, 
which the rehearsal of those passages demands, the 
better. I should think too, that Thomson's Seasons 
might afford him some useful lessons. At least they 
would have a tendency to give his mind an observing 
and a philosophical turn. I do not forget that he is 
but a child. But I remember that he is a child 
favoured with talents superior to his years. We were 
much pleased with his remarks on your almsgiving, 
and doubt not but it will be verified with respect to 
the two guineas you sent us, which have made four 
Christian people happy. Ships I have none, nor have 
touched a pencil these three years ; if ever I take it 
up again, which I rather suspect I shall not (the 
employment requiring stronger eyes than mine), it 
shall be at John's service. Yours, my dear friend, 

W. C. 



176 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1782 

LXXVII 

To the Rev. William Unwin. 

MY DEAR WILLIAM, 

The modest terms in which you express yourself on 
the subject of Lady Austen's commendation embolden 
me to add my suffrage to hers, and to confirm it by 
assuring you that I think her just and well founded in 
her opinion of you. The compliment indeed glances 
at myself; for were you less than she accounts you, 
I ought not to afford you that place in my esteem 
which you have held so long. My own sagacity there- 
fore and discernment are not a little concerned upon 
the occasion, for either you resemble the picture, or 
I have strangely mistaken my man, and formed an 
erroneous judgement of his character. With respect 
to your face and figure indeed, there I leave the 
ladies to determine, as being naturally best qualified 
to decide the point ; but whether you are perfectly 
the man of sense, and the gentleman, is a question in 
which I am as much interested as they, and which, 
you being my friend, I am of course prepared to settle 
in your favour. The lady (whom, when you know 
her as well, you will love as much as we do) is, and 
has been during the last fortnight, a part of our family. 
Before she was perfectly restored to health, she 
returned to Clifton. Soon after she came back, Mr. 
Jones had occasion to go to London. No sooner was 
he gone, than the Chateau, being left without a garrison, 



1782] TO THE REV. WILLIAM UNWIN 177 

was besieged as regularly as the night came on. 
Villains were both heard and seen in the garden, and 
at the doors and windows. The kitchen window in 
particular was attempted, from which they took a 
complete pane of glass, exactly opposite to the iron 
by which it was fastened; but providentially the 
window had been nailed to the wood-work, in order to 
keep it close, and that the air might be excluded ; thus 
they were disappointed, and being discovered by the 
maid, withdrew. The ladies being worn out with 
continual watching, and repeated alarms, were at last 
prevailed upon to take refuge with us. Men furnished 
with firearms were put into the house, and the rascals, 
having intelligence of this circumstance, beat a retreat. 
Mr. Jones returned ; Mrs. Jones and Miss Green, her 
daughter, left us, but Lady Austen's spirits having 
been too much disturbed, to be able to repose in a 
place where she had been so much terrified, she was 
left behind. She remains with us till her lodgings at 
the vicarage can be made ready for her reception. I 
have now sent you what has occurred of moment in 
our history since my last. 

I say amen, with all my heart, to your observation 
on religious characters. Men who profess themselves 
adepts in mathematical knowledge, in astronomy, or 
jurisprudence, are generally as well qualified as they 
would appear. The reason may be, that they are 
always liable to detection, should they attempt to 
impose upon mankind, and therefore take care to be 
what they pretend. In religion alone, a profession is 

VOL. i N 



178 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1782 

often slightly taken up, and slovenly carried on, be- 
cause forsooth candour and charity require us to hope 
the best, and to judge favourably of our neighbour, 
and because it is easy to deceive the ignorant, who 
are a great majority, upon this subject. Let a man 
attach himself to a particular party, contend furiously 
for what are properly called evangelical doctrines, and 
enlist himself under the banner of some popular 
preacher, and the business is done. Behold a 
Christian ! a Saint ! a Phoenix ! In the mean time 
perhaps his heart, and his temper, and even his 
conduct, are unsanctified ; possibly less exemplary 
than those of some avowed infidels. No matter ! 
he can talk, he has the Shibboleth of the true 
church, the Bible in his pocket, and a head well 
stored with notions. But the quiet, humble, modest, 
and peaceable person, who is in his practice what the 
other is only in his profession, who hates a noise, and 
therefore makes none, who knowing the snares that 
are in the world, keeps himself as much out of it as 
he can, and never enters it, but when duty calls, and 
even then with fear and trembling, is the Christian 
that will always stand highest in the estimation of 
those, who bring all characters to the test of true 
wisdom, and judge of the tree by its fruit. 

You are desirous of visiting the prisoners ; you wish 
to administer to their necessities, and to give them 
instruction. This task you will undertake, though 
you expect to encounter many things in the per- 
formance of it, that will give you pain. Now this I 



1782] TO THE REV. WILLIAM UN WIN 179 

can understand; you will not listen to the sensi- 
bilities that distress yourself, but to the distresses of 
others. Therefore, when I meet with one of the 
specious praters above-mentioned, I will send him to 
Stock, that by your diffidence he may be taught a 
lesson of modesty ; by your generosity, a little feeling 
for others ; and by your general conduct, in short, to 
chatter less, and to do more. Yours, my dear friend, 

W. C. 



LXXVIII 
To Joseph Hill, Esq. 

Jan. 31, 1782. 

MY DEAR FRIEND, 

Having thanked you for a barrel of very fine oysters, 
I should have nothing more to say, if I did not deter- 
mine to say every thing that may happen to occur. 
The political world affords us no very agreeable sub- 
jects at present, nor am I sufficiently conversant with 
it, to do justice to so magnificent a theme, if it did. 
A man that lives as I do, whose chief occupation, 
at this season of the year, is to walk ten times in a 
day from the fireside to his cucumber frame and back 
again, cannot show his wisdom more, if he has any 
wisdom to show, than by leaving the mysteries of 
government to the management of persons, in point 
of situation and information, much better qualified 
for the business. Suppose not, however, that I am 
perfectly an unconcerned spectator, or that I take no 



180 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1782 

interest at all in the affairs of my country ; far from 
it I read the news I see that things go wrong in 
every quarter. I meet, now and then, with an account 
of some disaster that seems to be the indisputable 
progeny of treachery, cowardice, or a spirit of faction ; 
I recollect that in those happier days, when you and 
I could spend our evening in enumerating victories 
and acquisitions that seemed to follow each other in 
a continued series, there was some pleasure in hearing 
a politician; and a man might talk away upon so 
entertaining a subject, without danger of becoming 
tiresome to others, or incurring weariness himself. 
When poor Bob White brought me the news of 
Boscawen's success off the coast of Portugal, how did 
I leap for joy ! When Hawke demolished Conflans, 
I was still more transported. But nothing could 
express my rapture, when Wolfe made the conquest 
of Quebec. I am not, therefore, I suppose destitute 
of true patriotism, but the course of public events 
has, of late, afforded me no opportunity to exert it. 
I cannot rejoice, because I see no reason, and I will 
not murmur, because for that I can find no good one. 
And let me add, he that has seen both sides of fifty, 
has lived to little purpose, if he has not other views 
of the world than he had when he was much younger. 
He finds, if he reflects at all, that it will be to the 
end, what it has been from the beginning, a shifting, 
uncertain, fluctuating scene ; that nations, as well as 
individuals, have their seasons of infancy, youth, and 
age. If he be an Englishman, he will observe that 



1782] TO JOSEPH HILL, ESQ. 181 

ours, in particular, is affected with every symptom of 
decay, and is already sunk into a state of decrepi- 
tude. I am reading Mrs. M'Aulay's History. I am 
not quite such a superannuated simpleton, as to sup- 
pose that mankind were wiser or much better, when I 
was young, than they are now. But I may venture 
to assert, without exposing myself to the charge of 
dotage, that the men whose integrity, courage, and 
wisdom, broke the bands of tyranny, established our 
constitution upon its true basis, and gave a people, 
overwhelmed with the scorn of all countries, an 
opportunity to emerge into a state of the highest 
respect and estimation, make a better figure in history 
than any of the present day are likely to do, when 
their pretty harangues are forgotten, and nothing 
shall survive but the remembrance of the views and 
motives with which they made them. 

My dear friend, I have written at random, in 
every sense, neither knowing what sentiments I 
should broach, when I began, nor whether they 
would accord with yours. Excuse a rustic, if he errs 
on such a subject, and believe me sincerely yours, 

WM. COWPER. 



LXXIX 

To the Rev. William Unwin. 

Feb. 9, 1782. 

MY DEAR FRIEND, 

I thank you for Mr. Lowth's verses. They are so 



182 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1782 

good, that had I been present when he spoke them, I 
should have trembled for the boy, lest the man should 
disappoint the hopes such early genius had given birth 
to. It is not common to see so lively a fancy so 
correctly managed, and so free from irregular exuber- 
ances, at so unexperienced an age ; fruitful, yet not 
wanton, and gay without being tawdry. When school- 
boys write verse, if they have any fire at all, it generally 
spends itself in flashes, and transient sparks, which 
may indeed suggest an expectation of something better 
hereafter, but deserve not to be much commended for 
any real merit of their own. Their wit is generally 
forced and false, and their sublimity, if they affect any, 
bombast. I remember well when it was thus with 
me, and when a turgid, noisy, unmeaning speech in a 
tragedy, which I should now laugh at, afforded me 
raptures, and filled me with wonder. It is not in 
general till reading and observation have settled the 
taste, that we can give the prize to the best writing, 
in preference to the worst. Much less are we able to 
execute what is good ourselves. But Lowth seems 
to have stepped into excellence at once, and to have 
gained by intuition, what we little folks are happy, if 
we can learn at last, after much labour of our own, 
and instruction of others. The compliments he pays 
to the memory of King Charles, he would probably 
now retract, though he be a Bishop, and his Majesty's 
zeal for episcopacy was one of the causes of his ruin. 
An age or two must pass, before some characters can 
be properly understood. The spirit of party employs 



1782] TO THE REV. WILLIAM UtiWIN 183 

itself in veiling their faults, and ascribing to them 
virtues which they never possessed. See Charles's 
face drawn by Clarendon, and it is a handsome 
portrait. See it more justly exhibited by Mrs. 
Macaulay, and it is deformed to a degree that shocks 
us. Every feature expresses cunning, employing itself 
in the attainment of tyranny; and dissimulation, 
pretending itself an advocate for truth. 

I have a piece of secret history to communicate 
which I would have imparted sooner, but that I 
thought it possible there might be no occasion to 
mention it at all. When persons for whom I have 
felt a friendship, disappoint and mortify me by their 
conduct, or act unjustly towards me, though I no 
longer esteem them friends, I still feel that tenderness 
for their character that I would conceal the blemish 
if I could. But in making known the following 
anecdote to you, I run no risk of a publication, assured 
that when I have once enjoined you secrecy, you 
will observe it. 

My letters have already apprized you of that close 
and intimate connexion that took place between the 
lady you visited in Queen Ann Street, 1 and us. 
Nothing could be more promising, though sudden in 
the commencement. She treated us with as much 
unreservedness of communication, as if we had been 
born in the same house, and educated together. At 
her departure, she herself proposed a correspondence, 
and because writing does not agree with your mother, 
1 Lady Austen. 



184 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1782 

proposed a correspondence with me. This sort of 
intercourse had not been long maintained, before I 
discovered, by some slight intimations of it, that she 
had conceived displeasure at somewhat I had written, 
though I cannot now recollect it : conscious of none 
but the most upright inoffensive intentions, I yet 
apologized for the passage in question, and the flaw 
was healed again. Our correspondence after this 
proceeded smoothly for a considerable time, but at 
length having had repeated occasion to observe that 
she expressed a sort of romantic idea of our merits, and 
built such expectations of felicity upon our friendship, 
as we were sure that nothing human could possibly 
answer, I wrote to remind her that we were mortal, 
to recommend it to her not to think more highly of us 
than the subject would warrant, and intimating that 
when we embellish a creature with colours taken from 
our own fancy, and so adorned, admire and praise it 
beyond its real merits, we make it an idol, and have 
nothing to expect in the end, but that it will deceive our 
hopes, and that we shall derive nothing from it but a 
painful conviction of our error. Your mother heard 
me read the letter, she read it herself, and honoured 
it with her warm approbation. But it gave mortal 
offence; it received indeed an answer, but such an 
one as I could by no means reply to; and there 
ended (for it was impossible it should ever be renewed) 
a friendship that bid fair to be lasting ; being formed 
with a woman whose seeming stability of temper, 
whose knowledge of the world, and great experience 



1782] TO THE REV. WILLIAM UNWIN 185 

of its folly, but above all, whose sense of religion, and 
seriousness of mind, (for with all that gaiety, she is 
a great thinker,) induced us both, in spite of that 
cautious reserve that marks our characters, to trust 
her, to love and value her, and to open our hearts for 
her reception. It may be necessary to add, that by 
her own desire I wrote to her under the assumed 
relation of a brother, and she to me as my sister. 
Ceufumus in auras. 

I thank you for the search you have made after my 
intended motto, but I no longer need it. I have left 
myself no room for politics, that subject therefore must 
be postponed to a future letter. Our love is always 
with yourself and family. We have recovered from 
the concern we suffered on account of the fracas above 
mentioned, though for some days it made us unhappy. 
Not knowing but that she might possibly become 
sensible in a few days that she had acted hastily and 
unreasonably, and renew the correspondence herself, 
I could not in justice apprize you of this quarrel sooner, 
but some weeks having passed without any proposals 
of accommodation, I am now persuaded that none are 
intended, and in justice to you am obliged to caution 
you against a repetition of your visit. Yours, my dear 
friend, w c 



186 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1782 

LXXX 

To the Rev. John Newton. 

March 6, 1782. 

MY DEAR FRIEND, 

The tempting occasion of a basket directed to you, 
seldom fails to produce a letter ; not that I have any 
thing to say, but because I can say any thing, there- 
fore I seize the present opportunity to address you. 
Some subject will be sure to present itself, and the 
first that offers shall be welcome. 

Is peace the nearer because our patriots have 
resolved that it is desirable ? Will the victory they have 
gained in the House of Commons be attended with any 
other consequences than the mortification of the King, 
the embarrassment of ministry, and perhaps Lord 
North's resignation ? Do they expect the same success 
on other occasions, and having once gained a majority, 
are they to be the majority for ever ? These are the 
questions we agitate by the fireside in an evening, with- 
out being able to come to any certain conclusion, partly 
I suppose because the subject is in itself uncertain, 
and partly because we are not furnished with the means 
of understanding it. I find the politics of times past 
far more intelligible than those of the present Time 
has thrown light upon what was obscure, and decided 
what was ambiguous. The characters of great men, 
which are always mysterious while they live, are ascer- 
tained by the faithful historian, and sooner or later 
receive their wages of fame or infamy, according to their 



1782] TO THE REV. JOHN NEWTON 187 

true deserts. How have I seen sensible and learned 
men burn incense to the memory of Oliver Cromwell, 
ascribing to him, as the greatest hero of the world, the 
dignity of the British empire during the interregnum. 
A century passed before that idol, which seemed to 
be of gold, was proved to be a wooden one. The 
fallacy however was at length detected, and the honour 
of that detection has fallen to the share of a woman. 
I do not know whether you have read Mrs. Macaulay's 
history of that period. She handled him more roughly 
than the Scots did at the battle of Dunbar, where, 
though he gained a victory, he received a wound in 
his head, that had almost made it his last, and spoiled 
him for a Protector. He would have thought it little 
worth his while to have broken through all obligations 
divine and human, to have wept crocodile tears, and 
wrapped himself up in the obscurity of speeches that 
nobody could understand, could he have foreseen that 
in the ensuing century a lady's scissors would clip his 
laurels close, and expose his naked villany to the 
scorn of all posterity. This however has been 
accomplished, and so effectually, that I suppose it is 
not in the power of the most artificial management 
to make them grow again. Even the sagacious of 
mankind are blind when Providence leaves them 
be deluded ; so blind, that a tyrant shall be mistaken 
for a true patriot, true patriots (such were the Long 
Parliament) shall be abhorred as tyrants, and almost 
a whole nation shall dream, that they have the 
full enjoyment of liberty, for years after such a 



188 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1782 

crafty knave as Oliver shall have stolen it completely 
from them. I am indebted for all this show of 
historical knowledge to Mr. Bull, who has lent me five 
volumes of the work I mention. I was willing to 
display it while I have it ; in a twelvemonth's time I 
shall remember almost nothing of the matter. 

I wrote to Lord Dartmouth to apprize him of my 
intended present, and have received a very affectionate 
and obliging answer. But not having received the 
volume myself, I suppose it is not yet published, 
though the first of the month was the day fixed for 
the publication. 

No winter since we knew Olney has kept us more 
closely confined than the present; either the ways 
have been so dirty or the weather so rough, that we 
have not more than three times escaped into the 
fields, since last autumn. This does not suit Mrs. 
Unwin, to whom air and exercise, her only remedies, 
are almost absolutely necessary. Neither are my 
frequent calls into the garden altogether sufficient for 
me. Man, a changeable creature himself, seems to 
subsist best in a state of variety, as his proper element. 
A melancholy man at least is apt to grow sadly weary 
of the same walls, and the same pales, and to find 
that the same scene will suggest the same thoughts 
perpetually. 

Mrs. Unwin hopes the chickens will prove good, 
though not so fat as she generally makes them. She 
has sent the two guineas for the box, and I the layers 
and pinks I mentioned. When the bulbs are taken 



1782] TO THE REV. JOHN NEWTON 189 

up at Michaelmas, Mrs. Newton shall receive a parcel 
of all the sorts. Though I have spoken of the utility 
of changes, we neither feel nor wish for any in our 
friendships, and consequently stand just where we did 
with respect to your whole self. Other friends than 
you we have none, nor expect any. Yours, my dear 

Slr ' WM. COWPER. 

The cocoa nuts were equally good, and one of the 
tongues proved a very fine one ; we have not dressed 
the other. 

LXXXI 

To the Rev. William Unwin. 

March 7, 1782. 

MY DEAR FRIEND, 

We have great pleasure in the contemplation of 
your Northern journey, as it promises us a sight of you 
and yours by the way, and are only sorry that Miss 
Shuttleworth cannot be of the party. A line to 
ascertain the hour when we may expect you, by the 
next preceding post, will be welcome. 

We are far from wishing a renewal of the connexion * 
we have lately talked about. We did indeed find it 
in a certain way an agreeable one while that lady 
continued in the country, yet not altogether compatible 
with our favourite plan, with that silent retirement in 
which we have spent so many years, and in which we 
wish to spend what are yet before us. She is exceed- 
1 With Lady Austen. 



igo LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1782 

ingly sensible, has great quickness of parts, and an 
uncommon fluency of expression, but her vivacity 
was sometimes too much for us ; occasionally perhaps 
it might refresh and revive us, but it more frequently 
exhausted us, neither your mother nor I being in that 
respect at all a match for her. But after all, it does 
not entirely depend upon us, whether our former 
intimacy shall take place again or not ; or rather 
whether we shall attempt to cultivate it, or give it 
over, as we are most inclined to do, in despair. I 
suspect a little by her sending the ruffles, and by the 
terms in which she spoke of us to you, that some over- 
tures on her part are to be looked for. Should this 
happen, however we may wish to be reserved, we 
must not be rude ; but I can answer for us both, that 
we shall enter into the connexion again with great 
reluctance, not hoping for any better fruit of it than 
it has already produced. If you thought she fell short 
of the description I gave of her, I still think however 
that it was not a partial one, and that it did not make 
too favourable a representation of her character. You 
must have seen her to a disadvantage ; a conscious- 
ness of a quarrel so recent, and in which she had 
expressed herself with a warmth that she knew must 
have affronted and shocked us both, must unavoidably 
have produced its effect upon her behaviour, which 
though it could not be awkward, must have been in 
some degree unnatural, her attention being necessarily 
pretty much engrossed by a recollection of what 
had passed between us. I would by no means have 



1782] TO THE REV. WILLIAM UNWIN 191 

hazarded you into her company, if I had not been 
sure that she would treat you with politeness, and 
almost persuaded that she would soon see the un- 
reasonableness of her conduct, and make a suitable 
apology. 

It is not much for my advantage, that the printer 
delays so long to gratify your expectation. It is a 
state of mind that is apt to tire and disconcert us ; and 
there are but few pleasures that make us amends for 
the pain of repeated disappointment. I take it for 
granted you have not received the volume, not having 
received it myself, nor indeed heard from Johnson, 
since he fixed the first of the month for its publication. 

What a medley are our public prints, half the page 
filled with the ruin of the country, and the other half 
filled with the vices and pleasures of it; here an 
island taken, and there a new comedy; here an 
empire lost, and there an Italian opera, or the Duke 
of Gloucester's rout on a Sunday ! 

" May it please your R. H. ! I am an Englishman, 
and must stand or fall with the nation. Religion, its 
true Palladium, has been stolen away; and it is crum- 
bling into dust. Sin ruins us, the sins of the great 
especially, and of their sins especially the violation 
of the sabbath, because it is naturally productive of 
all the rest. Is it fit that a Prince should make the 
sabbath a day of dissipation, and that not content 
with his own personal profanation of it, he should 
invite all whose rank entitles them to the honour of 
such distinction, to partake with him in his guilt? 



192 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1782 

Are examples operative in proportion to the dignity 
of those who set them ? Whose then more pernicious 
than your own in this flagrant instance of impiety? 
For shame, Sir ! if you wish well to your brother's 
arms, and would be glad to see the kingdom emerging 
again from her ruins, pay more respect to an ordinance 
that deserves the deepest ! I do not say pardon this 

short remonstrance ! The concern I feel for my 

country, and the interest I have in its prosperity, 
give me a right to make it. I am, &c." 

Thus one might write to his Highness, and (I 
suppose) might be as profitably employed in whistling 

the tune of an old ballad. Lord P had a rout 

too on the same day. Is he the son of that P , 

who bought Punch for a hundred pounds, and having 
kept him a week, tore him limb from limb because he 
was sullen and would not speak ? Probably he is. 

I have no copy of the Preface, nor do I know at 
present how Johnson and Mr. Newton have settled it. 
In the matter of it there was nothing offensively 
peculiar. But it was thought too pious. Yours, my 
dear friend, - P 



LXXXII 

To the Rev. William Unwin. 

March 18, 1782. 

MY DEAR FRIEND, 

Nothing has given me so much pleasure, since the 



1782] TO THE REV. WILLIAM UNWIN 193 

publication of my volume, as your favourable opinion 
of it. It may possibly meet with acceptance from 
hundreds, whose commendation would afford me no 
other satisfaction than what I should find in the hope 
that it might do them good. I have some neighbours 
in this place, who say they like it ; doubtless I had 
rather they should than that they should not, but I 
know them to be persons of no more taste in poetry, 
than skill in the mathematics ; their applause there- 
fore is a sound that has no music in it for me. But 
my vanity was not so entirely quiescent when I read 
your friendly account of the manner in which it had 
affected you. It was tickled, and pleased, and told 
me in a pretty loud whisper, that others perhaps of 
whose taste and judgement I had a high opinion, 
would approve it too. As a giver of good counsel, I 
wish to please all ; as an author, I am perfectly in- 
different to the judgement of all, except the few who 
are indeed judicious. The circumstance however in 
your letter which pleased me the most was, that you 
wrote in high spirits, and though you said much, sup- 
pressed more, lest you should hurt my delicacy ; my 
delicacy is obliged to you, but you observe it is not 
so squeamish, but that after it has feasted upon praise 
expressed, it can find a comfortable dessert in the con- 
templation of praise implied. I now feel as if I should 
be glad to begin another volume, but from the will to 
the power is a step too wide for me to take at present, 
and the season of the year brings with it so many avoca- 
tions into the garden, where I am my own/a^ Mum, 
VOL. i o 



194 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1782 

that I have little or no leisure for the quill. I should 
do myself much wrong, were I to omit mentioning 
the great complacency with which I read your narrative 
of Mrs. Unwin's smiles and tears; persons of much 
sensibility are always persons of taste; a taste for 
poetry depends indeed upon that very article more 
than upon any other. If she had Aristotle by heart, 
I should not esteem her judgement so highly, were she 
defective in point of feeling, as I do and must esteem 
it, knowing her to have such feelings as Aristotle could 
not communicate, and as half the readers in the world 
are destitute of. This it is that makes me set so high 
a price upon your mother's opinion. She is a critic 
by nature, and not by rule, and has a perception of 
what is good or bad in composition, that I never knew 
deceive her; insomuch, that when two sorts of ex- 
pression have pleaded equally for the preference, in 
my own esteem, and I have referred, as in such cases 
I always did, the decision of the point to her, I never 
knew her at a loss for a just one. 

Whether I shall receive any answer from his 
Chancellorship or not, is at present in ambiguo, and 
will probably continue in the same state of ambiguity 
much longer. He is so busy a man, and at this time, 
if the papers may be credited, so particularly busy, 
that I am forced to mortify myself with the thought, 
that both my book and my letter may be thrown into 
a corner as too insignificant for a statesman's notice, 
and never found till his executor finds them. This 
affair however is neither ad my libitum nor his. I 



1782] TO THE REV. WILLIAM UNWIN 195 

have sent him the truth, and the truth which I know 
he is ignorant of. He that put it into the heart of a 
certain eastern monarch, to amuse himself one sleep- 
less night with listening to the records of his kingdom, 
is able to give birth to such another occasion in Lord 
Thurlow's instance, and inspire him with a curiosity 
to know what he has received from a friend he once 
loved and valued. If an answer comes however, you 
shall not long be a stranger to the contents of it. 

I have read your letter to their Worships, and much 
approve of it. May it have the effect it ought ! If 
not, still you have acted an humane and becoming 
part, and the poor aching toes and fingers of the 
prisoners will not appear in judgement against you. I 
have made a slight alteration in the last sentence, 
which perhaps you will not disapprove. Yours ever, 

W. C. 



LXXXIII 

To the Rev. William Univtn. 

April i, 1782. 

MY DEAR FRIEND, 

I could not have found a better trumpeter. Your 
zeal to serve the interest of my volume, together with 
your extensive acquaintance, qualify you perfectly for 
that most useful office. Methinks I see you with the 
long tube at your mouth, proclaiming to your numer- 
ous connexions my poetical merits, and at proper 
intervals levelling it at Olney, and pouring into my 



196 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1782 

ear the welcome sound of their approbation. I need 
not encourage you to proceed, your breath will never 
fail in such a cause ; and thus encouraged, I myself 
perhaps may proceed also, and when the versifying fit 
returns produce another volume. Alas ! we shall never 
receive such commendations from him on the wool- 
sack, as your good friend has lavished upon us. He 
has great abilities, but no religion. Mr. Hill told him 
some time since that I was going to publish ; to which 
piece of information, so far as I can learn, he returned 
no answer ; for Mr. Hill has not reported any to me. 
He had afterwards an opportunity to converse with 
him in private, but my poor authorship was not so 
much as mentioned : whence I learn two lessons ; first, 
that however important I may be in my own eyes, I 
am very insignificant in his ; and secondly, that I am 
never likely to receive any acknowledgement of the 
favour I have conferred upon his lordship, either 
under his own hand, or by the means of a third 
person ; and consequently that our intercourse has 
ceased for ever, for I shall not have such another 
opportunity to renew it. To make me amends how- 
ever for this mortification, Mr. Newton tells me, that 
my book is likely to run, spread, and prosper ; that 
the grave cannot help smiling, and the gay are struck 
with the truth of it ; and that it is likely to find its 
way into his Majesty's hands, being put into a proper 
course for that purpose. Now if the King should fall 
in love with my Muse, and with you for her sake, 
such an event would make us ample amends for the 



1782] TO THE REV. WILLIAM UN WIN 197 

Chancellor's indifference, and you might be the first 
divine that ever reached a mitre from the shoulders 
of a poet. But, I believe, we must be content, I with 
my gains, if I gain any thing, and you with the 
pleasure of knowing that I am a gainer. 

Doubt not your abilities for the task which Johnson 
would recommend to you. The Reviewers are such 
fiery Socinians that they have less charity for a man 
of my avowed principles than a Portugueze for a Jew. 
They may possibly find here and there somewhat 
to commend, but will undoubtedly reprobate the 
doctrines, pronounce me a methodist, and by so doing 
probably check the sale of the volume, if not suppress 
it. Wherein consists your difficulty ? Your private 
judgement once made public, and the world made 
acquainted with what you think and what you feel 
while you read me by the fireside, the business is 
done, I am reviewed, and my book forwarded in its 
progress by a judicious recommendation. In return, 
write a book, and I will be your reviewer ; thus we 
may hold up each other to public admiration, and 
turn our friendship to good account. But seriously, 
I think you perfectly qualified for the undertaking; 
and if you have no other objection to it than what 
arises from self-distrust, am persuaded you need only 
make the experiment in order to confute yourself. 

We laughed heartily at your reply to little John's 
question ; and yet I think you might have given him 
a direct answer " There are various sorts of clever- 
ness, my dear ; I do not know that mine lies in the 



198 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1782 

poetical way, but I can do ten times more towards 
the entertainment of company in the way of conversa- 
tion than our friend at Olney. He can rhyme, and I 
can rattle. If he had my talent, and I had his, we 
should be too charming, and the world would almost 
adore us." 

I have sowed sallad, in hopes that you will eat it ; 
I have already cut cucumbers, but have no fruit grow- 
ing at present. Spring onions in abundance. We 
shall be happy to see you, and hope that nothing will 
intervene to shorten your stay with us. Our love is 
with you both, and with all your family. Bon 
z,^ /-Yours, WM.COWPER. 

If your short stay in town will afford you an 
opportunity, I should be glad if you would buy me a 
genteelish toothpick case. I shall not think half a 
guinea too much for it ; only it must be one that will 
not easily break. If second-hand, perhaps, it may be 
the better. 



LXXXIV 

To the Rev. William. Unwin, at the Rev. 
Matthew Powleys> Dewsbury, near Wakefield. 

April 27, 1782. 

MY DEAR WILLIAM, 

A part of Lord Harrington's new-raised corps have 
taken up their quarters at Olney since you left us. 
They have the regimental music with them. The 



1782] TO THE REV. WILLIAM UN WIN 199 

men have been drawn up this morning upon the 
Market -hill, and a concert, such as we have not 
heard these many years, has been performed at no 
great distance from our window. Your mother and 
I both thrust our heads into the coldest east wind 
that ever blew in April, that we might hear them to 
greater advantage. The band acquitted themselves 
with taste and propriety, not blairing, like trumpeters 
at a fair, but producing gentle and elegant symphony, 
such as charmed our ears, and convinced us that no 
length of time can wear out a taste for harmony ; and 
that though plays, balls, and masquerades have lost 
all their power to please us, and we should find them 
not only insipid but insupportable, yet sweet music 
is sure to find a corresponding faculty in the soul, 
a sensibility that lives to the last, which even religion 
itself does not extinguish. I must pity therefore some 
good people, (at least some who once were thought 
such,) who have been fiddled out of all their Christian 
profession ; and having forsaken the world for a time, 
have danced into it again with all their might. It is 
a snare from which I myself should find it difficult to 
escape, were I much in the way of it. 

When we objected to your coming for a single 
night, it was only in the way of argument, and in 
hopes to prevail with you to contrive a longer abode 
with us. But rather than not see you at all, we should 
be glad of you though but for an hour. If the paths 
should be clean enough, and we are able to walk, (for 
you know we cannot ride,) we will endeavour to meet 



200 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1782 

you in Weston Park. But I mention no particular 
hour, that I may not lay you under a supposed obliga- 
tion to be punctual, which might be difficult at the 
end of so long a journey. Only if the weather be 
favourable, you shall find us there in the evening. 
It is winter in the south, perhaps therefore it may 
be spring at least, if not summer, in the north : for I 
have read that it is warmest in Greenland when it is 
coldest here. Be that as it may, we may hope at the 
latter end of such an April that the first change of 
wind will improve the season. 

We truly sympathised with you in the distresses 
you found on the northern side of Wakefield. It is 
well that the fatigue and the fright together were not 
too much for Mrs. Unwin. What a boor was he you 
mention ! Cursed is he, says the Scripture, that 
turneth the blind out of his way, . . a curse that, for 
aught I know, is fierce enough to singe the beard at 
least of the wretch who refuses to turn the wanderer 
into it. You will probably preach at Dewsbury the 
last Sunday, and if you see this dealer in light 
money, and this uncivilized savage in the congrega- 
tion, perhaps you may contrive to tell him so. 

The curate's simile Latinized : 

Sors adversa gerit stimulum, sedtendit et alas : 
Pungit, api similis, sed, velut ista, fugit. 

What a dignity there is in the Roman language ! and 
what an idea it gives us of the good sense and mascu- 
line mind of the people that spoke it! The same 
thought which clothed in English seems childish, and 



1782] TO THE REV. WILLIAM UNWIN 201 

even foolish, assumes a different air in Latin, and 
makes at least as good an epigram as some of 
Martial's. 

I remember your making an observation, while here, 
on the subject of parentheses, to which I acceded with- 
out limitation ; but a little attention will convince us 
both, that they are not to be universally condemned. 
When they abound, and when they are long, they both 
embarrass the sense, and are a proof that the writer's 
head is cloudy, that he has not properly arranged his 
matter, or is not well skilled in the graces of expres- 
sion. But as parenthesis is ranked by grammarians 
among the figures of rhetoric, we may suppose they 
had a reason for conferring that honour upon it. 
Accordingly we shall find that in the use of some of 
our finest writers, as well as in the hands of the ancient 
poets and orators, it has a peculiar elegance, and im- 
parts a beauty which the period would want without it. 

" Hoc nemus, hunc," inquit, t( frondoso vertice collem 
(Quis deus incertum esi) habitat deus." 

VIR. Jin. 8. 

In this instance, the first that occurred, it is graceful. 
I have not time to seek for more, nor room to insert 
them. But your own observation I believe will con- 
firm my opinion. We have thought of you and talked 
of you every day since you went, and shall till you 
return. Our love attends yourself and Mrs. Unwin, 
John the hider of a tea-kettle not yet found, and your 
hosts at Dewsbury. Yours ever, w P 



202 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1782 

LXXXV 

To the Rev. William Unwin. 

May 27, 1782. 

My DEAR FRIEND, 

Rather ashamed of having been at all dejected by 
the censure of the Critical Reviewers, who certainly 
could not read without prejudice a book replete with 
opinions and doctrines to which they cannot subscribe, 
I have at present no little occasion to keep a strict 
guard upon my vanity, lest it should be too much 
flattered by the following eulogium. I send it you for 
the reasons I gave when I imparted to you some other 
anecdotes of a similar kind, while we were together. 
Our interests in the success of this same volume are 
so closely united, that you must share with me in the 
praise or blame that attends it ; and sympathising with 
me under the burthen of injurious treatment, have a 
right to enjoy with me the cordials I now and then 
receive, as I happen to meet with more favourable and 
candid judges. 

A merchant, a friend of ours, (you will soon guess 
him,) sent my Poems to one of the first philosophers, 
one of the most eminent literary characters, as well as 
one of the most important in the political world, that 
the present age can boast of. Now perhaps your con- 
jecturing faculties are puzzled, and you begin to ask, 
" who, where, and what is he ? speak out, for I am 
all impatience." I will not say a word more, the 



1782] TO THE REV. WILLIAM UN WIN 203 

letter in which he returned his thanks for the present 
shall speak for him. 

PASSY, May 8, 1782. 

SIR, 

I received the letter you did me the honour of 
writing to me, and am much obliged by your kind 
present of a book. The relish for reading of poetry 
had long since left me, but there is something so new 
in the manner, so easy, and yet so correct in the 
language, so clear in the expression, yet concise, and 
so just in the sentiments, that I have read the whole 
with great pleasure, and some of the pieces more than 
once. I beg you to accept my thankful acknowledge- 
ments, and to present my respects to the author. 

I shall take care to forward the letters to America, 
and shall be glad of any other opportunity of doing 
what may be agreeable to you, being with great 
respect for your character, Your most obedient 
humble servant, R FRANKLIN. 

We may now treat the critics as the Archbishop of 
Toledo treated Gil Bias, when he found fault with one 
of his sermons. His grace gave him a kick, and said, 
" Begone for a jackanapes, and furnish yourself with 
a better taste, if you know where to find it." 

We are glad that you are safe at home again. 
Could we see at one glance of the eye what is passing 
every day upon all the roads in the kingdom, how 
many are terrified and hurt, how many plundered and 



204 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1782 

abused, we should indeed find reason enough to be 
thankful for journeys performed in safety, and for 
deliverance from dangers we are not perhaps even 
permitted to see. When in some of the high southern 
latitudes, and in a dark tempestuous night, a flash of 
lightning discovered to Captain Cook a vessel, which 
glanced along close by his side, and which, but for the 
lightning, he must have run foul of, both the danger, 
and the transient light that showed it, were undoubtedly 
designed to convey to him this wholesome instruction, 
that a particular Providence attended him, and that 
he was not only preserved from evils, of which he had 
notice, but from many more of which he had no infor- 
mation, or even the least suspicion. What unlikely 
contingencies may nevertheless take place ! How 
improbable that two ships should dash against each 
other, in the midst of the vast Pacific Ocean, and that 
steering contrary courses, from parts of the world so 
immensely distant from each other, they should yet 
move so exactly in a line as to clash, fill, and go to the 
bottom, in a sea where all the ships in the world might 
be so dispersed as that none should see another ! 
Yet this must have happened but for the remarkable 
interference which he has recorded. The same Pro- 
vidence indeed might as easily have conducted them 
so wide of each other, that they should never have 
met at all ; but then this lesson would have been lost ; 
at least, the heroic voyager would have encompassed 
the globe without having had occasion to relate an 
incident that so naturally suggests it. 



TO THE REV. WILLIAM UN WIN 205 

I am no more delighted with the season than you 
are. The absence of the sun, which has graced the 
spring with much less of his presence than he vouch- 
safed to the winter, has a very uncomfortable effect 
upon my frame. I feel an invincible aversion to em- 
ployment, which I am yet constrained to fly to as my 
only remedy against something worse. If I do nothing, 
I am dejected ; if I do any thing, I am weary ; and 
that weariness is best described by the word lassitude, 
which is of all weariness in the world the most oppres- 
sive. But enough of myself and the weather. 

The blow we have struck in the West Indies will, I 
suppose, be decisive at least for the present year, and 
so far as that part of our possessions is concerned in 
the present conflict. But the news-writers, and their 
correspondents, disgust me, and make me sick. One 
victory after such a long series of adverse occurrences 
has filled them with self-conceit, and impertinent 
boasting; and while Rodney is almost accounted a 
methodist, for ascribing his success to Providence, 
men who have renounced all dependence upon such a 
friend, without whose assistance nothing can be done, 
threaten to drive the French out of the sea, laugh at 
the Spaniards, sneer at the Dutch, and are to carry 
the world before them. Our enemies are apt to brag, 
and we deride them for it ; but we can sing as loud 
as they can, in the same key, and no doubt wherever 
our papers go, shall be derided in our turn. An 
Englishman's true glory should be, to do his business 
well, and say little about it ; but he disgraces himself 



206 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1782 

when he puffs his prowess as if he had finished his 
task, when he has but just begun it. Yours, 

W. C. 

LXXXVI 
To the Rev. William Bull. 

June 22, 1782. 

MY DEAR FRIEND, 

If reading verse be your delight, 
'Tis mine as much, or more, to write ; 
But what we would, so weak is man, 
Lies oft remote from what we can. 
For instance, at this very time, 
I feel a wish, by cheerful rhyme, 
To soothe my friend, and, had I power, 
To cheat him of an anxious hour ; 
Not meaning, (for, I must confess, 
It were but folly to suppress,) 
His pleasure or his good alone, 
But squinting partly at my own. 
But though the sun is flaming high 
In the centre of yon arch, the sky, 
And he had once (and who but he ?) 
The name for setting genius free, 
Yet whether poets of past days 
Yielded him undeserved praise, 
And he by no uncommon lot 
Was famed for virtues he had not ; 
Or whether, which is like enough, 
His Highness may have taken huff, 



1782] TO THE REV. WILLIAM BULL 207 

So seldom .sought with invocation, 
Since it has been the reigning fashion 
To disregard his inspiration, 
I seem no brighter in my wits, 
For all the radiance he emits, 
Than if I saw, through midnight vapour, 
The glimmering of a farthing taper. 
Oh for a succedaneum, then, 
To accelerate a creeping pen ! 
Oh for a ready succedaneum, 
Quod caput, cerebrum, et cranium 
Pondere liberet exoso, 
Et morbo jam caliginoso ! 
Tis here ; this oval box well fill'd 
With best tobacco, finely mill'd, 
Beats all Anticyra's pretences 
To disengage the encumber'd senses. 
Oh Nymph of Transatlantic fame, 
Where'er thine haunt, whate'er thy name, 
Whether reposing on the side 
Of Oroonoquo's spacious tide, 
Or listening with delight not small 
To Niagara's distant fall, 
'Tis thine to cherish and to feed 
The pungent nose-refreshing weed, 
Which, whether pulverized it gain 
A speedy passage to the brain, 
Or whether, touch'd with fire, it rise 
In circling eddies to the skies, 
Does thought more quicken and refine 



208 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1782 

Than all the breath of all the Nine ; 

Forgive the bard, if bard he be, 

Who once too wantonly made free, 

To touch with a satiric wipe 

That symbol of thy power, the pipe ; 

So may no blight infest thy plains, 

And no unseasonable rains ; 

And so may smiling peace once more 

Visit America's sad shore ; 

And thou, secure from all alarms, 

Of thundering drums, and glittering arms, 

Rove unconfined beneath the shade 

Thy wide-expanded leaves have made ; 

So may thy votaries increase, 

And fumigation never cease. 

May Newton with renew'd delights 

Perform thine odoriferous rites, 

While clouds of incense half divine 

Involve thy disappearing shrine ; 

And so may smoke-inhaling Bull 

Be always filling, never full. 



LXXXVII 

To the Rev. William Unwin. 



MY DEAR FRIEND, 

Entertaining some hope that Mr. Newton's next 
letter would furnish me with the means of satisfying 



1782] TO THE REV. WILLIAM UN WIN 209 

your inquiry on the subject of Dr. Johnson's opinion, 
I have till now delayed my answer to your last ; but 
the information is not yet come, Mr. Newton having 
intermitted a week more than usual since his last 
writing. When I receive it, favourable or not, it shall 
be communicated to you ; but I am not very sanguine 
in my expectations from that quarter. Very learned 
and very critical heads are hard to please. He may 
perhaps treat me with lenity for the sake of my subject 
and design, but the composition I think will hardly 
escape his censure. Though all doctors may not be 
of the same mind, there is one doctor at least, whom 
I have lately discovered, my professed admirer. He 
too, like Johnson, was with difficulty persuaded to 
read, having an aversion to all poetry, except the 
Night Thoughts; which on a certain occasion, when 
being confined on board a ship he had no other em- 
ployment, he got by heart. He was however prevailed 
upon, and read me several times over ; so that if my 
volume had sailed with him, instead of Dr. Young's, I 
might perhaps have occupied that shelf in his memory 
which he then allotted to the Doctor: his name is 
Renny, and he lives at Newport Pagnel. 

It is a sort of paradox, but it is true : we are never 
more in danger than when we think ourselves most 
secure, nor in reality more secure than when we seem 
to be most in danger. Both sides of this apparent 
contradiction were lately verified in my experience. 
Passing from the greenhouse to the barn, I saw three 
kittens (for we have so many in our retinue) looking 

VOL. i p 



2io LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1782 

with fixed attention at something, which lay on the 
threshold of a door, coiled up. I took but little notice 
of them at first ; but a loud hiss engaged me to attend 
more closely, when behold a viper! the largest I 
remember to have seen, rearing itself, darting its 
forked tongue, and ejaculating the aforementioned hiss 
at the nose of a kitten almost in contact with his lips. 
I ran into the hall for a hoe with a long handle, with 
which I intended to assail him, and returning in a few 
seconds missed him : he was gone, and I feared had 
escaped me. Still however the kitten sat watching 
immoveably upon the same spot. I concluded, there- 
fore, that, sliding between the door and the threshold, 
he had found his way out of the garden into the yard. 
I went round immediately, and there found him in 
close conversation with the old cat, whose curiosity 
being excited by so novel an appearance, inclined her 
to pat his head repeatedly with her fore foot ; with her 
claws however sheathed, and not in anger, but in the 
way of philosophical inquiry and examination. To 
prevent her falling a victim to so laudable an exercise 
of her talents, I interposed in a moment with the hoe, 
and performed upon him an act of decapitation, which 
though not immediately mortal proved so in the end. 
Had he slid into the passages, where it is dark, or 
had he, when in the yard, met with no interruption 
from the cat, and secreted himself in any of the out- 
houses, it is hardly possible but that some of the 
family must have been bitten ; he might have been 
trodden upon without being perceived, and have 



1782] TO THE REV, WILLIAM UNWIN 211 

slipped away before the sufferer could have well dis- 
tinguished what foe had wounded him. Three years 
ago we discovered one in the same place, which the 
barber slew with a trowel. 

Our proposed removal to Mr. Small's was, as you 
suppose, a jest, or rather a joco-serious matter. We 
never looked upon it as entirely feasible, yet we saw 
in it something so like practicability, that we did not 
esteem it altogether unworthy of our attention. It 
was one of those projects which people of lively 
imaginations play with, and admire for a few days, 
and then break in pieces. Lady Austen returned on 
Thursday from London, where she spent the last fort- 
night, and whither she was called by an unexpected 
opportunity to dispose of the remainder of her lease. 
She has now therefore no longer any connexion with 
the great city, she has none on earth whom she calls 
friends but us, and no house but at Olney. Her 
abode is to be at the vicarage, where she has hired 
as much room as she wants, which she will embellish 
with her own furniture, and which she will occupy 
as soon as the minister's wife has produced another 
child, which is expected to make its entry in October. 

Mr. Bull, a dissenting minister of Newport, a 
learned, ingenious, good-natured, pious friend of ours, 
who sometimes visits us, and whom we visited last 
week, has put into my hands three volumes of French 
poetry, composed by Madame Guyon; a quietist 
say you, and a fanatic, I will have nothing to do with 
her. It is very well, you are welcome to have 



212 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1782 

nothing to do with her, but in the mean time her 
verse is the only French verse I ever read that I found 
agreeable; there is a neatness in it equal to that which 
we applaud with so much reason in the compositions 
of Prior. I have translated several of them, and shall 
proceed in my translations, till I have filled a 
Lilliputian paper -book I happen to have by me, 
which when filled I shall present to Mr. Bull. He is 
her passionate admirer, rode twenty miles to see her 
picture in the house of a stranger, which stranger 
politely insisted on his acceptance of it, and it now 
hangs over his parlour chimney. It is a striking portrait, 
too characteristic not to be a strong resemblance, and 
were it encompassed with a glory, instead of being 
dressed in a nun's hood, might pass for the face of 
an angel. 

Our meadows are covered with a winter-flood in 
August ; the rushes with which our bottomless chairs 
were to have been bottomed, and much hay which 
was not carried, are gone down the river on a voyage 
to Ely, and it is even uncertain whether they will ever 
return. Sic transit gloria mundi I I am glad you 
have found a curate ; may he answer ! Am happy in 
Mrs. Bouverie's continued approbation ; it is worth 
while to write for such a reader. Yours, 



1782] TO LADY AUSTEN 213 



LXXXVIII 

TO LADY AUSTEN. 

To watch the storms, and hear the sky 
Give all our almanacks the lie ; 
To shake with cold, and see the plains 
In autumn drown'd with wintry rains ; 
'Tis thus I spend my moments here, 
And wish myself a Dutch Mynheer ; 
I then should have no need of wit, 
For lumpish Hollander unfit. 
Nor should I then repine at mud, 
Or meadows deluged with a flood ; 
But in a bog live well content, 
And find it just my element ; 
Should be a clod, and not a man, 
Nor wish in vain for Sister Ann, 
With charitable aid to drag 
My mind out of its proper quag ; 
Should have the genius of a boor, 
And no ambition to have more. 



MY DEAR SISTER, 

You see my beginning. I do not know but in 
time I may proceed even to the printing of halfpenny 
ballads Excuse the coarseness of my paper ; I wasted 
such a quantity before I could accomplish any thing 
legible, that I could not afford finer. I intend to 
employ an ingenious mechanic of the town to make 
me a longer case ; for you may observe that my lines 
turn up their tails like Dutch mastiffs, so difficult do 
I find it to make the two halves exactly coincide with 
each other. 

We wait with impatience for the departure of this 



2i 4 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1782 

unseasonable flood. We think of you, and talk of 
you, but we can do no more, till the waters shall 
subside. I do not think our correspondence should 
drop because we are within a mile of each other. It 
is but an imaginary approximation, the flood having 
in reality as effectually parted us as if the British 
Channel rolled between us. Yours, my dear sister, 
with Mrs. Unwin's best love. ,y ~ 

Aug. 12, 1782. 

LXXXIX 
To Joseph Hill, Esq. 

Nov. ii, 1782. 

MY DEAR FRIEND, 

Your shocking scrawl, as you term it, was, however, 
a very welcome one. The character, indeed, has not 
quite the neatness and beauty of an engraving ; but, 
if it cost me some pains to decypher it, they were 
well rewarded by the minute information it conveyed. 
I am glad your health is such, that you have nothing 
more to complain of than may be expected on the 
down-hill side of life. If mine is better than yours, 
it is to be attributed, I suppose, principally, to the 
constant enjoyment of country air and retirement ; 
the most perfect regularity in matters of eating, drink- 
ing, and sleeping; and a happy emancipation from 
every thing that wears the face of business. I lead 
the life I always wished for, and, the single circum- 
stance of dependence excepted, (which, between our- 



1782] TO JOSEPH HILL, ESQ.. 215 

selves, is very contrary to my predominant humour 
and disposition,) have no want left broad enough for 
another wish to stand upon. 

You may not, perhaps, live to see your trees attain 
to the dignity of timber ; I, nevertheless, approve of 
your planting, and the disinterested spirit that prompts 
you to it. Few people plant, when they are young ; 
a thousand other less profitable amusements divert 
their attention; and most people, when the date of 
youth is once expired, think it too late to begin. I 
can tell you, however, for your comfort and encourage- 
ment, that when a grove, which Major Cowper had 
planted, was of eighteen years growth, it was no small 
ornament to his grounds, and afforded as complete 
a shade as could be desired. Were I as old as your 
mother, in whose longevity I rejoice, and the more, 
because I consider it as, in some sort, a pledge and 
assurance of yours, and should come to the possession 
of land worth planting, I would begin to-morrow, and 
even without previously insisting upon a bond from 
Providence that I should live five years longer. 

I saw last week a gentleman who was lately at 
Hastings. I asked him where he lodged. He replied 

at P 's. I next enquired after the poor man's 

wife, whether alive or dead. He answered, dead. So 
then, said I, she has scolded her last ; and a sensible 
old man will go down to his grave in peace. Mr. 

P , to be sure, is of no great consequence, either 

to you, or to me ; but having so fair an opportunity to 
inform myself about him, I could not neglect it. It 



216 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1782 

gives me pleasure to learn somewhat of a man I knew 
a little of so many years since, and for that reason 
merely I mention the circumstance to you. 

I find a single expression in your letter which needs 
correction. You say I carefully avoid paying you a 
visit at Wargrave. Not so; but connected as I 
happily am, and rooted where I am, and not having 
travelled these twenty years, being, besides, of an 
indolent temper, and having spirits that cannot bear 
a bustle all these are so many insuperables in the 
way. They are not, however, in yours; and if you 
and Mrs. Hill will make the experiment, you shall 
find yourselves as welcome here, both to me and to 
Mrs. Unwin, as it is possible you can be any where. 
Yours affectionately, WM _ 



XC 

To the Rev. William Unwin. 

Nov. 18, 1782. 

MY DEAR WILLIAM, 

On the part of the poor, and on our part, be 
pleased to make acknowledgments, such as the occa- 
sion calls for, to our beneficent friend Mr. Smith. I 
call him ours, because having experienced his kindness 
to myself in a former instance, and in the present his 
disinterested readiness to succour the distressed, my 
ambition will be satisfied with nothing less. He may 
depend upon the strictest secrecy ; no creature shall 



1782] TO THE REV. WILLIAM UN WIN 217 

hear him mentioned, either now or hereafter, as the 
person from whom we have received this bounty. But 
when I speak of him, or hear him spoken of by others, 
which sometimes happens, I shall not forget what is 
due to so rare a character. I wish, and your mother 
wishes it too, that he could sometimes take us in his 
way to Nottingham ; he will find us happy to receive 
a person whom we must needs account it an honour to 
know. We shall exercise our best discretion in the 
disposal of the money ; but in this town, where the 
Gospel has been preached so many years, where the 
people have been favoured so long with laborious and 
conscientious ministers, it is not an easy thing to find 
those who make no profession of religion at all, and 
are yet proper objects of charity. The profane are so 
profane, so drunken, dissolute, and in every respect 
worthless, that to make them partakers of his bounty 
would be to abuse it. We promise, however, that none 
shall touch it but such as are miserably poor, yet at 
the same time industrious and honest, two characters 
frequently united here, where the most watchful and 
unremitting labour will hardly procure them bread. 
We make none but the cheapest laces, and the price 
of them is fallen almost to nothing. Thanks are 
due to yourself likewise, and are hereby accordingly 
rendered, for waving your claim in behalf of your own 
parishioners. You are always with them, and they 
are always, at least some of them, the better for your 
residence among them. Olney is a populous place, 
inhabited chiefly by the half-starved and the ragged 



2i8 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1782 

of the earth, and it is not possible for our small party 
and small ability to extend their operations so far as 
to be much felt among such numbers. Accept there- 
fore your share of their gratitude, and be convinced 
that when they pray for a blessing upon those who 
have relieved their wants, He that answers that prayer, 
and when he answers it, will remember his servant at 
Stock. 

I little thought when I was writing the history of 
John Gilpin, that he would appear in print I in- 
tended to laugh, and to make two or three others 
laugh, of whom you were one. But now all the world 
laughs, at least if they have the same relish for a tale 
ridiculous in itself, and quaintly told, as we have. 
Well they do not always laugh so innocently, or at 
so small an expense for in a world like this, abound- 
ing with subjects for satire, and with satirical wits to 
mark them, a laugh that hurts nobody has at least 
the grace of novelty to recommend it. Swift's darling 
motto was, Vive la bagatelle a good wish for a 
philosopher of his complexion, the greater part of 
whose wisdom, whencesoever it came, most certainly 
came not from above. La bagatelle has no enemy 
in me, though it has neither so warm a friend, nor so 
able a one, as it had in him. If I trifle, and merely 
trifle, it is because I am reduced to it by necessity 
a melancholy, that nothing else so effectually disperses, 
engages me sometimes in the arduous task of being 
merry by force.' And, strange as it may seem, the 
most ludicrous lines I ever wrote have been written 



1782] TO THE REV. WILLIAM UNWIN 219 

in the saddest mood, and, but for that saddest mood, 
perhaps had never been written at all. To say truth, 
it would be but a shocking vagary, should the mariners 
on board a ship buffeted by a terrible storm, employ 
themselves in fiddling and dancing; yet sometimes 
much such a part act I. 

I hear from Mrs. Newton, that some great persons 
have spoken with great approbation of a certain book. 
Who they are, and what they have said, I am to be 
told in a future letter. The Monthly Reviewers in 
the mean time have satisfied me well enough. Yours, 
my dear William, , 



XCI 

To Mrs. Newton. 

Nov. 23, 1782. 

MY DEAR MADAM, 

The soles with which you favoured us were re- 
markably fine. Accept our thanks for them ; thanks 
likewise for the trouble you take in vending my poems, 
and still more for the interest you take in their success. 
My authorship is undoubtedly pleased when I hear 
that they are approved either by the great or the 
small ; but to be approved by the great, as Horace 
observed many years ago, is fame indeed. Having 
met with encouragement, I consequently wish to write 
again ; but wishes are a very small part of the qualifica- 
tions necessary for such a purpose. Many a man who 



220 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1782 

has succeeded tolerably well in his first attempt, 
has spoiled all by the second. But it just occurs to 
me that I told you so once before, and if my memory 
had served me with the intelligence a minute sooner, 
I would not have repeated the observation now. 

The winter sets in with great severity. The rigour 
of the season, and the advanced price of grain, are 
very threatening to the poor. It is well with those 
that can feed upon a promise, and wrap themselves up 
warm in the robe of salvation. A good fire-side and 
a well-spread table are but very indifferent substitutes 
for these better accommodations ; so very indifferent, 
that I would gladly exchange them both, for the rags 
and the unsatisfied hunger of the poorest creature that 
looks forward with hope to a better world, and weeps 
tears of joy in the midst of penury and distress. What 
a world is this ! How mysteriously governed, and, in 
appearance, left to itself. One man, having squandered 
thousands at a gaming-table, finds it convenient to 
travel; gives his estate to somebody to manage for 
him ; amuses himself a few years in France and Italy ; 
returns, perhaps, wiser than he went, having acquired 
knowledge which, but for his follies, he would never 
have acquired ; again makes a splendid figure at home, 
shines in the senate, governs his country as its minister, 
is admired for his abilities, and, if successful, adored, 
at least by a party. When he dies he is praised as a 
demi-god, and his monument records every thing but 
his vices. The exact contrast of such a picture is to 
be found in many cottages at Olney. I have no need 



1782] TO MRS. NEWTON 221 

to describe them ; you know the characters I mean. 
They love God, they trust him, they pray to him in 
secret, and though he means to reward them openly, 
the day of recompense is delayed. In the mean time 
they suffer every thing that infirmity and poverty can 
inflict upon them. Who would suspect, that has not 
a spiritual eye to discern it, that the fine gentleman 
was one whom his Maker had in abhorrence, and the 
wretch last-mentioned, dear to him as the apple of his 
eye ? It is no wonder that the world, who are not in 
the secret, find themselves obliged, some of them, to 
doubt a Providence, and others, absolutely to deny it, 
when almost all the real virtue there is in it, is to be 
found living and dying in a state of neglected obscurity, 
and all the vices of others cannot exclude them from 
the privilege of worship and honour ! But behind the 
curtain the matter is explained ; very little, however, 
to the satisfaction of the great. 

If you ask me why I have written thus, and to you 
especially, to whom there was no need to write thus, 
I can only reply, that having a letter to write, and no 
news to communicate, I picked up the first subject I 
found, and pursued it as far as was convenient for my 
purpose. 

Mr. Newton and I are of one mind on the subject 
of patriotism. Our dispute was no sooner begun than 
it ended. It would be well, perhaps, if, when two 
disputants begin to engage, their friends would hurry 
each into a separate chaise, and order them to opposite 
points of the compass. Let one travel twenty miles 



222 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1782 

east ; the other as many west ; then let them write 
their opinions by the post. Much altercation and 
chafing of the spirit would be prevented ; they would 
sooner come to a right understanding, and running 
away from each other, would carry on the combat 
more judiciously, in exact proportion to the distance. 

My love to that gentleman, if you please ; and tell 
him, that, like him, though I love my country, I hate 
its follies and its sins, and had rather see it scourged 
in mercy, than judicially hardened by prosperity. 

Mrs. Unwin is not very well, but better than she 
has been. She adds her love to both. Yours, my 
dear Madam, as ever, 



XCII 

To Joseph Hill, Esq. 

Dec. 7, 1782. 

MY DEAR FRIEND, 

At seven o'clock this evening, being the seventh of 
December, I imagine I see you in your box at the 
coffee-house. No doubt the waiter, as ingenious and 
adroit as his predecessors were before him, raises the 
teapot to the ceiling with his right hand, while in his 
left the teacup descending almost to the floor, receives 
a limpid stream ; limpid in its descent, but no sooner 
has it reached its destination, than frothing and foam- 
ing to the view, it becomes a roaring syllabub. This 
is the nineteenth winter since I saw you in this 



1782] TO JOSEPH HILL, ESQ. 223 

situation ; and if nineteen more pass over me before 
I die, I shall still remember a circumstance we have 
often laughed at. 

How different is the complexion of your evenings 
and mine ! yours, spent amid the ceaseless hum that 
proceeds from the inside of fifty noisy and busy peri- 
wigs ; mine, by a domestic fireside, in a retreat as 
silent as retirement can make it ; where no noise is 
made but what we make for our own amusement. 
For instance, here are two rustics, and your humble 
servant in company. One of the ladies has been 
playing on the harpsichord, while I, with the other, 
have been playing at battledore and shuttlecock. A 
little dog, in the mean time, howling under the chair 
of the former, performed, in the vocal way, to admira- 
tion. This entertainment over, I began my letter, and 
having nothing more important to communicate, have 
given you an account of it. I know you love dearly 
to be idle, when you can find an opportunity to be so ; 
but as such opportunities are rare with you, I thought 
it possible that a short description of the idleness I 
enjoy might give you pleasure. The happiness we 
cannot call our own, we yet seem to possess, while we 
sympathise with our friends who can. 
The papers tell me that peace is at hand, and that 
it is at a great distance ; that the siege of Gibraltar is 
abandoned, and that it is to be still continued. It is 
happy for me, that though I love my country, I have 
but little curiosity. There was a time when these 
contradictions would have distressed me, but I have 



224 LETTERS FROM OI.NEY [1782 

learnt by experience that it is best for little people 
like myself to be patient, and to wait till time affords 
the intelligence which no speculations of theirs can 
ever furnish. 

I thank you for a fine cod with oysters, and hope 
that ere long, I shall have to thank you for procur- 
ing me Elliott's medicines. Every time I feel the 
least uneasiness in either eye, I tremble lest, my 
^Esculapius being departed, my infallible remedy 
should be lost for ever. Adieu. My respects to Mrs. 
HilL-Youis faithfully, 



XCIII 

To tJie Rev. John Newton. 

Jan. 26, 1783. 

MY DEAR FRIEND, 

It is reported among persons of the best intelli- 
gence at Olney the barber, the schoolmaster, and 
the drummer of a corps quartered at this place, that 
the belligerent powers are at last reconciled, the 
articles of the treaty adjusted, and that peace is at 
the door. I saw this morning, at nine o'clock, a 
group of about twelve figures very closely engaged in 
a conference, as I suppose, upon the same subject. 
The scene of consultation was a blacksmith's shed, 
very comfortably screened from the wind, and directly 
opposed to the morning sun. Some held their hands 
behind them, some had them folded across their 



1783] TO THE REV. JOHN NEWTON 225 

bosom, and others had thrust them into their breeches 
pockets. Every man's posture bespoke a pacific turn 
of mind ; but the distance being too great for their 
words to reach me, nothing transpired. I am willing, 
however, to hope that the secret will not be a secret 
long, and that you and I, equally interested in the 
event, though not, perhaps, equally well-informed, shall 
soon have an opportunity to rejoice in the completion 
of it. The powers of Europe have clashed with each 
other to a fine purpose ; that the Americans, at length 
declared independent, may keep themselves so, if they 
can ; and that what the parties, who have thought 
proper to dispute upon that point, have wrested from 
each other in the course of the conflict, may be, in 
the issue of it, restored to the proper owner. Nations 
may be guilty of a conduct that would render an 
individual infamous for ever; and yet carry their 
heads high, talk of their glory, and despise their 
neighbours. Your opinions and mine, I mean our 
political ones, are not exactly of a piece, yet I cannot 
think otherwise upon this subject than I have always 
done. England, more, perhaps, through the fault of 
her generals, than her councils, has in some instances 
acted with a spirit of cruel animosity she was never 
chargeable with till now. But this is the worst that 
can be said. On the other hand, the Americans, 
who, if they had contented themselves with a struggle 
for lawful liberty, would have deserved applause, seem 
to me to have incurred the guilt of parricide, by 
renouncing their parent, by making her ruin their 

VOL. I Q 



226 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1783 

favourite object, and by associating themselves with 
her worst enemy, for the accomplishment of their 
purpose. France, and of course Spain, have acted 
a treacherous, a thievish part. They have stolen 
America from England, and whether they are able 
to possess themselves of that jewel or not hereafter, 
it was doubtless what they intended. Holland appears 
to me in a meaner light than any of them. They 
quarrelled with a friend for an enemy's sake. The 
French led them by the nose, and the English have 
thrashed them for suffering it. My views of the 
contest being, and having been always such, I have 
consequently brighter hopes for England than her 
situation some time since seemed to justify. She is 
the only injured party. America may, perhaps, call 
her the aggressor; but if she were so, America has 
not only repelled the injury, but done a greater. As 
to the rest, if perfidy, treachery, avarice, and ambition, 
can prove their cause to have been a rotten one, 
those proofs are found upon them. I think, therefore, 
that whatever scourge may be prepared for England, 
on some future day, her ruin is not yet to be expected. 

Acknowledge, now, that I am worthy of a place 
under the shed I described, and that I should make 
no small figure among the quidnuncs of Olney. 

I wish the society you have formed may prosper. 
Your subjects will be of greater importance, and dis- 
cussed with more sufficiency. The earth is a grain 
of sand, but the spiritual interests of man are com- 
mensurate with the heavens. 



1783] TO THE REV. JOHN NEWTON 227 

Pray remind Mr. Bull, who has too much genius 
to have a good memory, that he has an account to 
settle for Mrs. Unwin with her grocer, and give our 
love to him. Accept for yourself and Mrs. Newton 
your just share of the same commodity, with our 
united thanks for a very fine barrel of oysters. This, 
indeed, is rather commending the barrel than its 
contents. I should say, therefore, for a barrel of 
very fine oysters. Yours, my dear friend, as ever, 

W. C. 



XCIV 

To the Rev. John Newton. 

April 20, 1783. 

MY DEAR FRIEND, 

My device was intended to represent not my own 
heart, but the heart of a Christian, mourning and yet 
rejoicing, pierced with thorns, yet wreathed about 
with roses. I have the thorn without the rose. My 
brier is a wintry one, the flowers are withered, but the 
thorn remains. My days are spent in vanity, and it 
is impossible for me to spend them otherwise. No 
man upon earth is more sensible of the unprofitable- 
ness of a life like mine, than I am, or groans more 
heavily under the burthen; but this too is vanity, 
because it is in vain ; my groans will not bring the 
remedy, because there is no remedy for me. The 
time when I seem to be most rationally employed, is 
when I am reading. My studies, however, are very 



228 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1783 

much confined, and of little use, because I have no 
books but what I borrow, and nobody will lend me 
a memory. My own is almost worn out. I read the 
Biographia and the Review. If all the readers of the 
former had memories like mine, the compilers of that 
work would in vain have laboured to rescue the great 
names of past ages from oblivion, for what I read 
to-day, I forget to-morrow. A by-stander might say, 
This is rather an advantage, the book is always new ; 
but I beg the by-stander's pardon ; I can recollect 
though I cannot remember, and with the book in my 
hand I recognise those passages which, without the 
book, I should never have thought of more. The 
Review pleases me most, because, if the contents 
escape me, I regret them less, being a very supercilious 
reader of most modern writers. Either I dislike the 
subject, or the manner of treating it ; the style is 
affected, or the matter is disgusting. Your namesake 
the Bishop of Bristol furnishes the principal article of 
the two last numbers, but (though he was a learned 
man, and sometimes wrote like a wise one,) I see him 
labouring under invincible prejudices against the truth 
and its professors; shrewd in his interpretations of 
prophecy, but heterodox in his opinions upon some 
religious subjects, and reasoning most weakly in 
support of them. How has he toiled to prove that 
the perdition of the wicked is not eternal, that there 
may be repentance in hell, and that the devils may 
be saved at last : thus establishing, as far as in him 
lies, the belief of a purgatory, and approaching nearer 



1783] TO THE REV. JOHN NEWTON 229 

to the church of Rome than ever any Methodist did, 
though papalizing is the crime with which he charges 
all of that denomination. When I think of the poor 
Bishop, I think too of some who shall say hereafter, 
"Have we not prophesied in thy name, and in thy 
name done many wondrous works? Then shall he 
say unto them, Depart from me, for I never knew 
you." But perhaps he might be enlightened in his 
last moments, and saved in the very article of dissolu- 
tion. It is much to be wished, and indeed hoped, 
that he was. Such a man reprobated in the great 
day, would be the most melancholy spectacle of all 
that shall stand at the left hand hereafter. But I do 
not think that many, or indeed any will be found 
there, who in their lives were sober, virtuous, and 
sincere, truly pious in the use of their little light, and 
though ignorant of God, in comparison with some 
others, yet sufficiently informed to know that He is 
to be feared, loved, and trusted. An operation is 
often performed within the curtains of a dying bed, 
in behalf of such men, that the nurse and the doctor (I 
mean the doctor and the nurse) have no suspicion of. 
The soul makes but one step out of darkness into 
light, and makes that step without a witness. My 
brother's case has made me very charitable in my 
opinion about the future state of such men. 

We wait with anxiety to be informed what news 
you receive from Scotland. Present our love, if you 
please, to Miss Cunningham. I saw in the Gentle- 
man's Magazine for last month, an account of a 



230 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1783 

physician who has discovered a new method of treat- 
ing consumptive cases, which has succeeded wonder- 
fully in the trial. He finds the seat of the distemper 
in the stomach, and cures it principally by emetics. 
The old method of encountering the disorder has 
proved so unequal to the task, that I should be much 
inclined to any new practice that came well recom- 
mended. He is spoken of as a sensible and judicious 
man, but his name I have forgot Yours, my dear 

friend ' WM. COWPER. 



xcv 

To the Rev. William Bull. 

, 1 7 8 3- 



MY DEAR FRIEND, 

My greenhouse, fronted with myrtles, and where I 
hear nothing but the pattering of a fine shower and 
the sound of distant thunder, wants only the fumes of 
your pipe to make it perfectly delightful. Tobacco 
was not known in the golden age. So much the worse 
for the golden age. This age of iron, or lead, would 
be insupportable without it ; and therefore we may 
reasonably suppose that the happiness of those better 
days would have been much improved by the use of 
it. We hope that you and your son are perfectly 
recovered. The season has been most unfavourable 
to animal life; and I, who am merely animal, have 
suffered much by it. 



1783] TO THE REV. WILLIAM BULL 231 

Though I should be glad to write, I write little or 
nothing. The time for such fruit is not yet come ; 
but I expect it, and I wish for it. I want amusement ; 
and, deprived of that, have none to supply the place 
of it. I send you, however, according to my promise 
to send you every thing, two stanzas composed at the 
request of Lady Austen. She wanted words to a tune 
she much admired, and I gave her these on Peace. 
Yours, w c 

XCVI 

To the Rev. William Unwin. 

June 8, 1783. 

MY DEAR WILLIAM, 

Our severest winter, commonly called the spring, is 
now over, and I find myself seated in my favourite 
recess, the greenhouse. In such a situation, so silent, 
so shady, where no human foot is heard, and where 
only my myrtles presume to peep in at the window, 
you may suppose I have no interruption to complain 
of, and that my thoughts are perfectly at my com- 
mand. But the beauties of the spot are themselves 
an interruption ; my attention is called upon by those 
very myrtles, by a double row of grass pinks just 
beginning to blossom, and by a bed of beans already 
in bloom ; and you are to consider it, if you please, as 
no small proof of my regard, that though you have so 
many powerful rivals, I disengage myself from them 
all, and devote this hour entirely to you. 



232 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1783 

You are not acquainted with the Rev. Mr. Bull, of 
Newport ; perhaps it is as well for you that you are 
not. You would regret still more than you do, that 
there are so many miles interposed between us. He 
spends part of the day with us to-morrow. A dis- 
senter, but a liberal one; a man of letters and of 
genius ; master of a fine imagination, or rather not 
master of it, an imagination which, when he finds 
himself in the company he loves, and can confide in, 
runs away with him into such fields of speculation, as 
amuse and enliven every other imagination that has 
the happiness to be of the party. At other times he 
has a tender and delicate sort of melancholy in his 
disposition, not less agreeable in its way. No men 
are better qualified for companions in such a world as 
this, than men of such a temperament. Every scene 
of life has two sides, a dark and a bright one, and the 
mind that has an equal mixture of melancholy and 
vivacity is best of all qualified for the contemplation 
of either ; it can be lively without levity, and pensive 
without dejection. Such a man is Mr. Bull. But 
he smokes tobacco. Nothing is perfect, 

Nihil est ab omni 

Parte beatum. 

I find that your friend Mr. Fytche has lost his 
cause ; and more mortifying still, has lost it by a single 
voice. Had I been a peer, he should have been 
secure of mine ; for I am persuaded that if conditional 
presentations were in fashion, and if every minister 
held his benefice, as the judges their office, upon the 



1783] TO THE REV. WILLIAM UN WIN 233 

terms of quamdiu bene se gesserit, it would be better 
for the cause of religion, and more for the honour of 
the Establishment. There ought to be discipline some- 
where ; and if the Bishops will not exercise it, I do 
not see why lay patrons should have their hands tied. 
If I remember your state of the case, (and I never 
heard it stated but by you,) my reflections upon it are 
pertinent. It is however long since we talked about 
it, and I may possibly misconceive it at present : if so, 
they go for nothing. I understand that he presented 
upon condition, that if the parson proved immoral or 
negligent, he should have liberty to call upon him 
either for his resignation or the penalty. If I am 
wrong, correct me. 

On the other side I send you a something, a song 
if you please, composed last Thursday the incident 
happened the day before. 1 Yours, , 



XCVII 

To the Rev. William Bull. 

June 27, 1783. 

MY DEAR FRIEND, 

A fine morning, though a shady one, has induced 
me to spend that time in walking which I had devoted 
to the quill; consequently I send you no letter for 
Mr. Newton, but am obliged to postpone my answer 
to his last till the usual opportunity shall arrive. I 
1 Here followed his song of the Rose. R. SOUTHEY. 



234 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1783 

cannot resist fine weather ; and the omission is of no 
great consequence, both because I have nothing new 
to communicate, and because I have a frank which 
will convey that nothing to him gratis. I wish you 
and yours a pleasant excursion, as pleasant as the 
season and the scene to which you are going can pos- 
sibly make it. I shall rejoice to hear from you, and am 
sufficiently flattered by the recollection, that just after 
hearing you protest against all letter-writing, I heard 
you almost promise to write a letter to me. The 
journeys of a man like you must all be sentimental 
journeys, and better worth the recital than Sterne's 
would have been, had he travelled to this moment. 
Adieu, my friend '-Yours, WM CowpER . 

Mrs. Unwin's love. Send the Review. 



XCVIII 

To the Rev. John Newton. 

June 29, 1783. 

MY DEAR FRIEND, 

The translation of your letters into Dutch was news 
that pleased me much. I intended plain prose, but a 
rhyme obtruded itself, and I became poetical when I 
least expected it. The Boeotian atmosphere I have 
breathed these six days past, makes such a sally of 
genius the more surprising, so long, in a country 
not subject to fogs, we have been covered with one of 



1783] TO THE REV. JOHN NEWTON 235 

the thickest I remember. We never see the sun but 
shorn of his beams. The trees are scarce discernible 
at a mile's distance. He sets with the face of a red- 
hot salamander, and rises, (as I learn from report,) 
with the same complexion. Such a phenomenon at 
the end of June has occasioned much speculation 
among the connoscenti at this place. Some fear to 
go to bed, expecting an earthquake; some declare 
that he neither rises nor sets where he did, and assert 
with great confidence that the day of Judgement is 
at hand. This is probable, and I believe it myself, 
but for other reasons. In the meantime I cannot dis- 
cover in them, however alarmed, the symptoms even 
of a temporary reformation. This very Sunday morn- 
ing the pitchers of all have been carried into Silver 
End as usual, the inhabitants perhaps judging that 
they have more than ordinary need of that cordial at 
such a juncture. It is however, seriously, a remarkable 
appearance, and the only one of the kind that at this 
season of the year has fallen under my notice. Signs 
in the heavens are predicted characters of the last 
times; and in the course of the last fifteen years I 
have been a witness of many. The present obfuscation, 
(if I may call it so,) of all nature may be ranked perhaps 
among the most remarkable ; but possibly it may not 
be universal; in London at least, where a dingy 
atmosphere is frequent, it may be less observable. 

Pardon a digression which I slipped into at un- 
awares, a transition from Holland to a fog was not 
unnatural. When you wrote those letters you did 



236 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1783 

not dream that you were designed for an apostle to 
the Dutch. Yet so it proves, and such among many 
others are the advantages we derive from the art of 
printing : an art in which indisputably man was in- 
structed by the same great teacher who taught him to 
embroider for the service of the sanctuary, and to 
beat out the cummin, and which amounts almost to 
as great a blessing as the gift of tongues, diffusing an 
author's sentiments upon the noblest subjects through 
a people. 

Mrs. Unwin desires me to send her love, and to 
thank Mrs. Newton for all she has done for her. 
Every thing has arrived safe, and been managed 
exactly to her mind. In the course of next month 
she hopes to treat you with a cupple of dux. Yours, 
my dear friend, - P 



XCIX 

To the Rev. John Newton. 

July 27, 1783. 

MY DEAR FRIEND, 

You cannot have more pleasure in receiving a letter 
from me, than I should find in writing it, were it not 
almost impossible in such a place to find a subject. 

I live in a world abounding with incidents, upon 
which many grave, and perhaps some profitable obser- 
vations might be made ; but those incidents never 
reaching my unfortunate ears, both the entertaining 
narrative and the reflection it might suggest are to 



1783] TO THE REV. JOHN NEWTON 237 

me annihilated and lost. I look back to the past 
week, and say, what did it produce ? I ask the same 
question of the week preceding, and duly receive the 
same answer from both, nothing ! A situation like 
this, in which I am as unknown to the world, as 
I am ignorant of all that passes in it, in which I have 
nothing to do but to think, would exactly suit me, 
were my subjects of meditation as agreeable as my 
leisure is uninterrupted. My passion for retirement 
is not at all abated, after so many years spent in 
the most sequestered state, but rather increased ; a 
circumstance I should esteem wonderful to a degree 
not to be accounted for, considering the condition of 
my mind, did I not know, that we think as we are 
made to think, and of course approve and prefer, as 
Providence, who appoints the bounds of our habitation, 
chooses for us. Thus am I both free and a prisoner 
at the same time. The world is before me ; I am not 
shut up in the Bastille ; there are no moats about my 
castle, no locks upon my gates, of which I have not 
the key ; but an invisible, uncontrollable agency, a 
local attachment, an inclination more forcible than I 
ever felt, even to the place of my birth, serves me for 
prison-walls, and for bounds which I cannot pass. In 
former years I have known sorrow, and before I had 
ever tasted of spiritual trouble. The effect was an 
abhorrence of the scene in which I had suffered so 
much, and a weariness of those objects which I had so 
long looked at with an eye of despondency and 
dejection. But it is otherwise with me now. The same 



238 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1783 

cause subsisting, and in a much more powerful degree, 
fails to produce its natural effect. The very stones 
in the garden-walls are my intimate acquaintance. I 
should miss almost the minutest object, and be dis- 
agreeably affected by its removal, and am persuaded 
that were it possible I could leave this incommodious 
nook for a twelvemonth, I should return to it again 
with rapture, and be transported with the sight of 
objects which to all the world beside would be at least 
indifferent ; some of them perhaps, such as the ragged 
thatch and the tottering walls of the neighbouring 
cottages, disgusting. But so it is, and it is so, because 
here is to be my abode, and because such is the 
appointment of Him that placed me in it. 

Iste terrarum mihi prater omnes 
Angulus ridet. 

It is the place of all the world I love the most, not for 
any happiness it affords me, but because here I can be 
miserable with most convenience to myself and with 
the least disturbance to others. 

You wonder, and (I dare say) unfeignedly, because 
you do not think yourself entitled to such praise, that 
I prefer your style, as an historian, to that of the two 
most renowned writers of history the present day has 
seen. That you may not suspect me of having said 
more than my real opinion will warrant, I will tell you 
why. In your style I see no affectation. In every 
line of theirs I see nothing else. They disgust me 
always, Robertson with his pomp and his strut, and 
Gibbon with his finical and French manners. You 



1783] TO THE REV. JOHN NEWTON 239 

are as correct as they. You express yourself with us 
much precision. Your words are ranged with us much 
propriety, but you do not set your periods to a tune. 
They discover a perpetual desire to exhibit themselves 
to advantage, whereas your subject engrosses you. 
They sing, and you say ; which, as history is a thing 
to be said, and not sung, is, in my judgement, very 
much to your advantage. A writer that despises their 
tricks, and is yet neither inelegant nor inharmonious, 
proves himself, by that single circumstance, a man of 
superior judgement and ability to them both. You 
have my reasons. I honour a manly character, in 
which good sense, and a desire of doing good, are the 
predominant features ; but affectation is an emetic. 

W. C. 



To the Rev. William Bull. 

Aug. 3, 1783. 

MY DEAR BULL, 

I began to despair of you as a correspondent, yet 
not to blame you for being silent. I am acquainted 
with Rottingdean and all its charms, the downs, the 
cliff, and the agreeable opportunities of sauntering that 
the seaside affords. I knew, besides, that your preach- 
ings would be frequent, and allowed an especial force 
above all to the consideration of your natural indolence; 
for though diligent and active in your business, you 
know in your heart that you love your ease, as all 
parsons do : these weighty causes all concurring to 



240 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1783 

justify your silence, I should have been very unreason- 
able had I condemned it. 

I laughed, as you did, at the alarm taken by your 
reverend brother of the Establishment, and at his 
choice of a text by way of antidote to the noxious 
tendency of your discourses. The text, with a little 
transposition and variation of the words, would per- 
haps have come nearer to the truth, and have suited 
the occasion better. 

Instead of exhorting his hearers to hold fast the 
form of sound words, he should have said the sound 
of a form, which I take to be a just description of the 
sermons he makes himself, that have nothing but a 
sound and a form to recommend them. I rejoice that 
the bathing has been of use to you; the more you 
wash the filthier may you be, that your days may be 
prolonged, and your health more established. Scratch- 
ing is good exercise, promotes the circulation, elicits 
the humours, and if you will take a certain monarch's 
word, of itching memory, is too great a pleasure for a 
subject. 

I was always an admirer of thunder-storms, even 
before I knew whose voice I heard in them ; but 
especially an admirer of thunder rolling over the great 
waters. There is something singularly majestic in 
the sound of it at sea, where the eye and the ear have 
uninterrupted opportunity of observation, and the 
concavity above being made spacious reflects it with 
more advantage. I have consequently envied you your 
situation, and the enjoyment of those refreshing breezes 



1783] TO THE REV. WILLIAM BULL 241 

that belong to it. We have indeed been regaled with 
some of these bursts of ethereal music. The peals 
have been as loud, by the report of a gentleman who 
lived many years in the West Indies, as were ever 
heard in those islands, and the flashes as splendid. 
But when the thunder preaches, an horizon bounded 
by the ocean is the only sounding-board. 

I have but little leisure, strange as it may seem : 
that little I devoted for a month after your departure 
to the translation of Madame Guyon. I have made 
fair copies of all the pieces I have produced upon this 
last occasion, and will put them into your hands when 
we meet. They are yours, to serve you as you please ; 
you may take and leave as you like, for my purpose 
is already served. They have amused me, and I have 
no further demands upon them. The lines upon 
Friendship however, which were not sufficiently of a 
piece with the others, will not now be wanted. I 
have some other little things which I will communicate 
when time shall serve, but I cannot now transcribe 
them. 

Mrs. Unwin is well, and begs to be affectionately 
remembered to you and yours. I wish you many 
smugglers to shine in your crown of rejoicing on a 
certain day that approaches, and would take the trade 
myself if I could suppose it might be the means of 
introducing me to a place amongst them ; but I must 
neither wear a crown, nor help to adorn one. Yours, 

my dear friend, , ir ~, 

WM. COWPER. 

VOL. I R 



242 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1783 

CI 

To the Rev. William Bull. 

MY DEAR FRIEND, 

I received your letter on the first. I answer on 
the third. You leave Lymington on the sixth, and 
will consequently be at home when you receive my 
answer. I shall not therefore be very prolix, writing 
as I do, under the expectation and hope that we shall 
see you soon. 

We are both indebted and obliged to you for your 
journal of occurrences, and are glad that there is not 
one amongst them for which you have reason to be 
sorry. Your seaside situation, your beautiful prospects, 
your fine rides, and the sight of the palaces which you 
have seen, we have not envied you ; but are glad that 
you have enjoyed them. Why should we envy any 
man ? Is not our greenhouse a cabinet of perfumes ? 
It is at this moment fronted with carnations and 
balsalms, with mignionette and roses, with jessamine 
and woodbine, and wants nothing but your pipe to 
make it truly Arabian ; a wilderness of sweets ! The 
Sofa is ended, but not finished; a paradox, which 
your natural acumen, sharpened by habits of logical 
attention, will enable you to reconcile in a moment. 
Do not imagine, however, that I lounge over it ; on 
the contrary I find it severe exercise, to mould and 
fashion it to my mind ! 

Let us see you as soon as possible; present our 



1783] TO THE REV. WILLIAM BULL 243 

affectionate respects to your family, and tell the 
Welshman and his chum that if they do not behave 
themselves well, I will lash them soundly; they will 
not be the first academics to whom I have shown no 
mercy. Yours, with Mrs. Unwin's love, 

WM. COWPER. 



CII 

To the Rev. William Unwin. 

August 4, 1783. 

MY DEAR WILLIAM, 

I feel myself sensibly obliged by the interest you 
take in the success of my productions. Your feelings 
upon the subject are such as I should have myself, 
had I an opportunity of calling Johnson aside to 
make the enquiry you purpose. But I am pretty well 
prepared for the worst, and so long as I have the 
opinion of a few capable judges in my favour, and 
am thereby convinced that I have neither disgraced 
myself nor my subject, shall not feel myself disposed 
to any extreme anxiety about the sale. To aim with 
success at the spiritual good of mankind, and to 
become popular by writing on scriptural subjects, 
were an unreasonable ambition, even for a poet to 
entertain, in days like these. Verse may have many 
charms, but has none powerful enough to conquer 
the aversion of a dissipated age to such instruction. 
Ask the question therefore boldly, and be not mortified 
even though he should shake his head, and drop his 



244 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1783 

chin ; for it is no more than we have reason to expect. 
We will lay the fault upon the vice of the times, and 
we will acquit the poet. 

I am glad you were pleased with my Latin ode, 
and indeed with my English dirge, as much as I 
was myself. The tune laid me under a disadvantage, 
obliging me to write in Alexandrines ; which I sup- 
pose would suit no ear but a French one; neither 
did I intend any thing more than that the subject 
and the words should be sufficiently accommodated 
to the music. The ballad is a species of poetry, I 
believe, peculiar to this country, equally adapted to 
the drollest and the most tragical subjects. Simplicity 
and ease are its proper characteristics. Our forefathers 
excelled in it ; but we moderns have lost the art. It 
is observed, that we have few good English odes. But 
to make amends, we have many excellent ballads, not 
inferior perhaps in true poetical merit to some of the 
very best odes that the Greek or Latin languages have 
to boast of. It is a sort of composition I was ever 
fond of, and if graver matters had not called me 
another way, should have addicted myself to it more 
than to any other. I inherit a taste for it from my 
father, who succeeded well in it himself, and who 
lived at a time when the best pieces in that way were 
produced. What can be prettier than Gay's ballad, 
or rather Swift's, Arbuthnot's, Pope's, and Gay's, in 
the What do ye call it " 'Twas when the seas were 
roaring"? I have been well informed that they all 
contributed, and that the most celebrated association 



1783] TO THE REV. WILLIAM UN WIN 245 

of clever fellows this country ever saw did not think 
it beneath them to unite their strength and abilities 
in the composition of a song. The success however 
answered to their wishes, and our puny days will 
never produce such another. The ballads that 
Bourne has translated, beautiful in themselves, are 
still more beautiful in his version of them, infinitely 
surpassing, in my judgement, all that Ovid or Tibullus 
have left behind them. They are quite as elegant, 
and far more touching and pathetic than the tenderest 
strokes of either. 

So much for ballads, and ballad writers. "A 
worthy subject," you will say, " for a man whose head 
might be filled with better things ; " and it is filled 
with better things, but to so ill a purpose, that I 
thrust into it all manner of topics that may prove 
more amusing; as for instance, I have two gold- 
finches, which in the summer occupy the greenhouse. 
A few days since, being employed in cleaning out 
their cages, I placed that which I had in hand upon 
the table, while the other hung against the wall : the 
windows and the doors stood wide open. I went to 
fill the fountain at the pump, and on my return was 
not a little surprised to find a goldfinch sitting on 
the top of the cage I had been cleaning, and singing 
to and kissing the goldfinch within. I approached 
him, and he discovered no fear; still nearer, and he 
discovered none. I advanced my hand towards him, 
and he took no notice of it. I seized him, and 
supposed I had caught a new bird, but casting my 



246 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1783 

eye upon the other cage perceived my mistake. Its 
inhabitant, during my absence, had contrived to find 
an opening, where the wire had been a little bent, 
and made no other use of the escape it afforded him, 
than to salute his friend, and to converse with him 
more intimately than he had done before. I returned 
him to his proper mansion, but in vain. In less than 
a minute he had thrust his little person through the 
aperture again, and again perched upon his neigh- 
bour's cage, kissing him, as at the first, and singing, 
as if transported with the fortunate adventure. I 
could not but respect such friendship, as for the sake 
of its gratification had twice declined an opportunity 
to be free, and, consenting to their union, resolved 
that for the future one cage should hold them both. 
I am glad of such incidents ; for at a pinch, and when 
I need entertainment, the versification of them serves 
to divert me. 

I hope you will receive a very fine melon, which 
we send according to your last direction : it will leave 
this place on Wednesday. 

I transcribe for you a piece of Madame Guyon, not 
as the best, but as being shorter than many, and as 
good as most of them. Yours ever, 



1783] TO THE REV. WILLIAM UN WIN 247 

cm 

To the Rev, William Unwin. 

Sept. 29, 1783. 

MY DEAR WILLIAM, 

We are sorry that you and your household partake 
so largely of the ill effects of this unhealthy season. 
You are happy however in having hitherto escaped 
the epidemic fever, which has prevailed much in this 
part of the kingdom, and carried many off. Your 
mother and I are well. After more than a fortnight's 
indisposition, which slight appellation is quite adequate 
to the description of all I suffered, I am at length 
restored by a grain or two of emetic tartar. It is a 
tax I generally pay in autumn. By this time, I hope, 
a purer ether than we have seen for months, and these 
brighter suns than the summer had to boast, have 
cheered your spirits, and made your existence more 
comfortable. We are rational; but we are animal 
too, and therefore subject to the influences of the 
weather. The cattle in the fields show evident symp- 
toms of lassitude and disgust in an unpleasant season ; 
and we, their lords and masters, are constrained to 
sympathize with them: the only difference between 
us is, that they know not the cause of their dejection, 
and we do, but, for our humiliation, are equally at 
a loss to cure it. Upon this account I have sometimes 
wished myself a philosopher. How happy, in com- 
parison with myself, does the sagacious investigator 



248 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1783 

of nature seem, whose fancy is ever employed in the 
invention of hypotheses^ and his reason in the support 
of them ! While he is accounting for the origin of 
the winds, he has no leisure to attend to their influence 
upon himself; and while he considers what the sun is 
made of, forgets that he has not shone for a month. 
One project indeed supplants another. The vortices 
of Descartes gave way to the gravitation of Newton, 
and this again is threatened by the electrical fluid of a 
modern. One generation blows bubbles, and the next 
breaks them. But in the mean time your philosopher 
is a happy man. He escapes a thousand inquietudes 
to which the indolent are subject, and finds his occupa- 
tion, whether it be the pursuit of a butterfly, or a 
demonstration, the wholesomest exercise in the world. 
As he proceeds, he applauds himself. His discoveries, 
though eventually perhaps they prove but dreams, are 
to him realities. The world gaze at him, as he does 
at new phenomena in the heavens, and perhaps 
understand him as little. But this does not prevent 
their praises, nor at all disturb him in the enjoyment 
of that self-complacence, to which his imaginary 
success entitles him. He wears his honours while 
he lives, and if another strips them off when he has 
been dead a century, it is no great matter; he can 
then make shift without them. 

I have said a great deal upon this subject, and 
know not what it all amounts to. I did not intend a 
syllable of it when I began. But currente calamo, I 
stumbled upon it. My end is to amuse myself and 



1783] TO THE REV. WILLIAM UNWIN 249 

you. The former of these two points is secured. I 
shall be happy if I do not miss the latter. 

By the way, what is your opinion of these air- 
balloons? I am quite charmed with the discovery. 
Is it not possible (do you suppose) to convey such a 
quantity of inflammable air into the stomach and 
abdomen, that the philosopher, no longer gravitating 
to a centre, shall ascend by his own comparative 
levity, and never stop till he has reached the medium 
exactly in equilibria with himself? May he not by 
the help of a pasteboard rudder, attached to his pos- 
teriors, steer himself in that purer element with ease ; 
and again by a slow and gradual discharge of his 
aerial contents, recover his former tendency to the 
earth, and descend without the smallest danger or 
inconvenience? These things are worth inquiry; 
and (I dare say) they will be inquired after as they 
deserve. The pennce non homini data are likely to 
be less regretted than they were; and perhaps a 
flight of academicians and a covey of fine ladies 
may be no uncommon spectacle in the next genera- 
tion. A letter which appeared in the public prints 
last week convinces me, that the learned are not 
without hopes of some such improvement upon this 
discovery. The author is a sensible and ingenious 
man, and under a reasonable apprehension that the 
ignorant may feel themselves inclined to laugh 
upon a subject that affects himself with the utmost 
seriousness, with much good manners and manage- 
ment bespeaks their patience, suggesting many good 



250 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1783 

consequences that may result from a course of experi- 
ments upon this machine, and amongst others, that it 
may be of use in ascertaining the shape of continents 
and islands, and the face of wide-extended and far 
distant countries ; an end not to be hoped for, unless 
by these means of extraordinary elevation the human 
prospect may be immensely enlarged, and the philo- 
sopher, exalted to the skies, attain a view of the 
whole hemisphere at once. But whether he is to 
ascend by the mere inflation of his person, as hinted 
above, or whether in a sort of bandbox, supported 
upon balloons, is not yet apparent, nor (I suppose) 
even in his own idea perfectly decided. Yours, my 
dear William, w P 

CIV 

To Joseph Hill, Esq. 

Oct. 20, 1783. 

I should not have been thus long silent, had I 
known with certainty where a letter of mine might 
find you. Your summer excursions however are now 
at an end, and addressing a line to you in the centre 
of the busy scene in which you spend your winter, I 
am pretty sure of my mark. 

I see the winter approaching without much con- 
cern, though a passionate lover of fine weather and 
the pleasant scenes of summer ; but the long evenings 
have their comforts too, and there is hardly to be 
found upon the earth, I suppose, so snug a creature 



1783] TO JOSEPH HILL, ESQ. 251 

as an Englishman by his fireside in the winter. I 
mean however an Englishman that lives in the country, 
for in London it is not very easy to avoid intrusion. 
I have two ladies to read to, sometimes more, but 
never less. At present we are circumnavigating the 
globe, and I find the old story with which I amused 
myself some years since, through the great felicity 
of a memory not very retentive, almost new. I am 
however sadly at a loss for Cook's voyage, can you 
send it? I shall be glad of Foster's too. These 
together will make the winter pass merrily, and you 
will much oblige me. v 



CV 

To Joseph Hill, Esq, 

Oct. 20, 1783. 
MY DEAR FRIEND, 

I have nothing to say on political subjects, for two 
reasons; first, because I know none that at present 
would prove very amusing, especially to you who love 
your country; and secondly, because there are none 
that I have the vanity to think myself qualified to 
discuss. I must beg leave, however, to rejoice a little 
at the failure of the Caisse d'Escomptes, because I 
think the French have well deserved it; and to 
mourn equally that the Royal George cannot be 
weighed : the rather, because I wrote two poems, one 
Latin and one English, to encourage the attempt. 



252 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1783 

The former of these only having been published, 
which the sailors would understand but little of, may 
be the reason, perhaps, why they have not succeeded. 
Believe me, my friend, affectionately yours, 

WM. COWPER. 



CVI 
To the Rev. John Newton. 

Oct. 22, 1783. 

MY DEAR FRIEND, 

I have made a point of saying no fine things to 
Mr. Bacon, upon an occasion that would well have 
justified them ; deterred by a Caveat he entered in 
his letter. Nothing can be more handsome than 
the present, nor more obliging than the manner in 
which he has made it. I take it for granted that 
the plate is, line for line, and stroke for stroke, an 
exact representation of his performance, as nearly 
at least, as light and shade can exhibit, upon a flat 
surface, the effect of a piece of statuary. I may be 
allowed therefore to say that I admire it. My situa- 
tion affords me no opportunity to cultivate the science 
of connoisseurship ; neither would there be much 
propriety in my speaking the language of one to you, 
who disclaim the character. But we both know 
when we are pleased. It occurs to me, however, 
that I ought to say what it is that pleases me, for 
a general commendation, where there are so many 
particular beauties, would be insipid and unjust. 



1783] TO THE REV. JOHN NEWTON 253 

I think the figure of Lord Chatham singularly 
graceful, and his countenance full of the character 
that belongs to him. It speaks not only great ability 
and consummate skill, but a tender and heartfelt 
interest in the welfare of the charge committed to 
him. In the figure of the City, there is all that 
empressement (pardon a French term, it expresses my 
idea better than any English one that occurs,) that 
the importance of her errand calls for ; and it is noble 
in its air, though in a posture of supplication. But 
the figure of Commerce is indeed a perfect beauty. 
It is a literal truth, that I felt the tears flush into my 
eyes while I looked at her. The idea of so much 
elegance and grace having found so powerful a pro- 
tection, was irresistible. There is a complacency and 
serenity in the air and countenance of Britannia, more 
suited to her dignity than that exultation and triumph 
which a less judicious hand might have dressed her 
in. She seems happy to sit at the feet of her deliverer. 
I have most of the monuments in the Abbey by 
heart, but I recollect none that ever gave me so much 
pleasure. The faces are all expressive, and the figures 
are all graceful. If you think the opinion of so un- 
learned a spectator worth communicating, and that I 
have not said more than Mr. Bacon's modesty can 
bear without offence, you are welcome to make him 
privy to my sentiments. I know not why he should 
be hurt by just praise ; his fine talent is a gift, and all 
the merit of it is His property who gave it. 

We are sorry to be told by Mr. Jones that you 



254 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1783 

are neither of you well, and heartily wish you may 
be able to tell us in your next that you are better. 
Our love to Mrs. Newton. Believe me, my dear 
friend, sincerely and affectionately yours, 

WM. COWPER. 
I am out of your debt. 



CVII 

To the Rev. William Unwin. 

Nov. 10, 1783. 

MY DEAR WILLIAM, 

I have lost and wasted almost all my writing time, 
in making an alteration in the verses I either enclose 
or subjoin, for I know not which will be the case at 
present. 1 If prose comes readily, I shall transcribe 
them on another sheet, otherwise, on this. You will 
understand, before you have read many of them, that 
they are not for the press. I lay you under no other 
injunctions. The unkind behaviour of our acquaint- 
ance, though it is possible that in some instances it 

1 The verses referred to are The Valediction. The two unkind 
friends to whom Cowper bade farewell in that poem were the Lord 
Chancellor Thurlow and George Colman, manager of the Hay- 
market theatre, the latter of whom had been a schoolfellow of 
Cowper at Westminster. To both of them the poet sent a copy of 
his first volume. Neither of them acknowledged the receipt of the 
present. Afterwards when he was famous, the two deigned to notice 
their old friend, and the gentle Cowper forgave and corresponded 
with them both. Thurlow's letters to Cowper on his translation of 
Homer are printed in the poet's correspondence. They do as little 
credit to the writer's head as his conduct to Cowper did to his 
heart. 



1783] TO THE REV. WILLIAM UNWIN 255 

may not much affect our happiness, nor engage many 
of our thoughts, will sometimes obtrude itself upon us 
with a degree of importunity not easily resisted ; and 
then perhaps, though almost insensible of it before, 
we feel more than the occasion will justify. In such 
a moment it was that I conceived this poem, and 
gave loose to a degree of resentment, which perhaps 
I ought not to have indulged, but which in a cooler 
hour I cannot altogether condemn. My former inti- 
macy with the two characters was such, that I could 
not but feel myself provoked by the neglect with which 
they both treated me on a late occasion. So much by 
way of preface. 

You ought not to have supposed that if you had 
visited us last summer, the pleasure of the interview 
would have been all your own. By such an imagina- 
tion you wrong both yourself and us. Do you sup- 
pose we do not love you ? You cannot suspect your 
mother of coldness ; and as to me, assure yourself I 
have no friend in the world with whom I communicate 
without the least reserve, yourself excepted. Take 
heart then, and when you find a favourable opportu- 
nity to come, assure yourself of such a welcome from 
us both as you have a right to look for. But I have 
observed in your two last letters somewhat of a 
dejection and melancholy, that I am afraid you do 
not sufficiently strive against. I suspect you of being 
too sedentary. "You cannot walk." Why you cannot 
is best known to yourself. I am sure your legs are 
long enough, and your person does not overload them. 



256 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1783 

But I beseech you ride, and ride often. I think I 
have heard you say, you cannot even do that without 
an object. Is not health an object ? Is not a new 
prospect, which in most countries is gained at the end 
of every mile, an object ? Assure yourself that easy 
chairs are no friends to cheerfulness, and that a long 
winter spent by the fireside is a prelude to an un- 
healthy spring. Every thing I see in the fields is to 
me an object, and I can look at the same rivulet, or 
at a handsome tree, every day of my life, with new 
pleasure. This indeed is partly the effect of a natural 
taste for rural beauty, and partly the effect of habit ; 
for I never in all my life have let slip the opportunity 
of breathing fresh air, and of conversing with nature, 
when I could fairly catch it. I earnestly recommend 
a cultivation of the same taste to you, suspecting that 
you have neglected it, and suffer for doing so. 

Last Saturday se'nnighr, the moment I had com- 
posed myself in my bed, your mother too having just 
got into hers, we were alarmed by a cry of fire on 
the staircase. I immediately rose, and saw sheets 
of flame above the roof of Mr. Palmer's house, our 
opposite neighbour. The mischief however was not 
so near to him as it seemed to be, having begun in a 
butcher's yard, at a little distance. We made all 
haste down stairs, and soon threw open the street 
door, for the reception of as much lumber, of all sorts, 
as our house would hold, brought into it by several 
who thought it necessary to move their furniture. In 
two hours time we had so much that we could hold 



1783] TO THE REV. WILLIAM UNWIN 257 

no more, even the uninhabited part of our building 
being filled. Not that we ourselves were entirely 
secure an adjoining thatch, on which fell showers of 
sparks, being rather a dangerous neighbour. Provi- 
dentially, however, the night was perfectly calm, and 
we escaped. By four in the morning it was extin- 
guished, having consumed many out-buildings, but no 
dwelling-house. Your mother suffered a little in her 
health, from the fatigue and bustle of the night, but 
soon recovered. As for me, it hurt me not. The 
slightest wind would have carried the fire to the very 
extremity of the town, there being multitudes of 
thatched buildings and faggot-piles so near to each 
other, that they must have proved infallible con- 
ductors. 

The balloons prosper ; and I congratulate you upon 
it. Thanks to Montgolfier, 1 we shall fly at last. Yours, 
my dear friend, 



CVIII 

To the Rev. John Newton. 

Nov. 17, 1783. 

MY DEAR FRIEND, 

A parcel arrived last night, the contents of which 
shall be disposed of according to order. We thank 

1 The balloon was invented by two Frenchmen, the brothers 
Stephen and Joseph Montgolfier of Annonay, near Lyons, where 
the first ascent of a balloon took place, June 5, 1783. 

VOL. I S 



258 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1783 

Mrs. Newton (not from the teeth outwards) for the 
tooth-brushes. 

The country around us is much alarmed with appre- 
hensions of fire. Two have happened since that of 
Olney. One at Hitchin, where the damage is said to 
amount to eleven thousand pounds, and another, at a 
place not far from Hitchin, of which I have not learnt 
the name. Letters have been dropped at Bedford, 
threatening to burn the town ; and the inhabitants 
have been so intimidated as to have placed a guard 
in many parts of it, several nights past. Some mad- 
man or some devil has broke loose, who it is to be 
hoped will pay dear for these effusions of his malignity. 
Since our conflagration here, we have sent two women 
and a boy to the justice, for depredation ; Sue Riviss, 
for stealing a piece of beef, which, in her excuse, she 
said she intended to take care of. This lady, whom 
you well remember, escaped for want of evidence ; not 
that evidence was indeed wanting, but our men of 
Gotham judged it unnecessary to send it. With her 
went the woman I mentioned before, who, it seems, 
has made some sort of profession, but upon this occa- 
sion allowed herself a latitude of conduct rather incon- 
sistent with it, having filled her apron with wearing 
apparel, which she likewise intended to take care of. 
She would have gone to the county gaol, had Billy 
Raban, the baker's son, who prosecuted, insisted upon 
it; but he good-naturedly, though I think weakly, 
interposed in her favour, and begged her off. The 
young gentleman who accompanied these fair ones, is 



1783] TO THE REV. JOHN NEWTON 259 

the junior son of Molly Boswell. He had stolen some 
iron-work, the property of Griggs, the butcher. Being 
convicted, he was ordered to be whipt, which opera- 
tion he underwent at the cart's tail, from the stone- 
house to the high arch, and back again. He seemed 
to show great fortitude, but it was all an imposition 
upon the public. The beadle, who performed it, had 
filled his left hand with red ochre, through which, 
after every stroke, he drew the lash of his whip, 
leaving the appearance of a wound upon the skin, but 
in reality not hurting him at all. This being perceived 
by Mr. Constable Hinschcomb, who followed the 
beadle, he applied his cane, without any such manage- 
ment or precaution, to the shoulders of the too 
merciful executioner. The scene immediately became 
more interesting. The beadle could by no means 
be prevailed upon to strike hard, which provoked 
the constable to strike harder ; and this double 
flogging continued, till a lass of Silver-end, pitying 
the pitiful beadle thus suffering under the hands of the 
pitiless constable, joined the procession, and placing 
herself immediately behind the latter, seized him by 
his capillary club, and pulling him backwards by the 
same, slapt his face with a most Amazonian fury. 
This concatenation of events has taken up more 
of my paper that I intended it should, but I could 
not forbear to inform you how the beadle threshed 
the thief, the constable the beadle, and the lady 
the constable, and how the thief was the only person 
concerned who suffered nothing. Mr. Teedon has 



260 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1783 

been here, and is gone again. He came to thank 
me for an old pair of breeches. In answer to our 
enquiries after his health, he replied that he had a 
slow fever, which made him take all possible care not 
to inflame his blood. I admitted his prudence, but in 
his particular instance, could not very clearly discern 
the need of it. Pump water will not heat him much ; 
and, to speak a little in his own style, more inebriating 
fluids are to him, I fancy, not very attainable. He 
brought us news, the truth of which, however, I do 
not vouch for, that the town of Bedford was actually 
on fire yesterday, and the flames not extinguished 
when the bearer of the tidings left it. 

Swift observes, when he is giving his reasons why 
the preacher is elevated always above his hearers, that 
let the crowd be as great as it will below, there is 
always room enough over-head. If the French philo- 
sophers can carry their art of flying to the perfection 
they desire, the observation may be reversed, the 
crowd will be over-head, and they will have most room 
who stay below. I can assure you, however, upon my 
own experience, that this way of travelling is very 
delightful. I dreamt, a night or two since, that I 
drove myself through the upper regions in a balloon 
and pair, with the greatest ease and security. Having 
finished the tour I intended, I made a short turn, and, 
with one flourish of my whip, descended ; my horses 
prancing and curvetting with an infinite share of spirit, 
but without the least danger, either to me or my 
vehicle. The time, we may suppose, is at hand, and 



1783] TO THE REV. JOHN NEWTON 261 

seems to be prognosticated by my dream, when these 
airy excursions will be universal, when judges will fly 
the circuit, and bishops their visitations ; and when the 
tour of Europe will be performed with much greater 
speed, and with equal advantage, by all who travel 
merely for the sake of having it to say, that they have 
made it. 

I beg you will accept for yourself and yours our 
unfeigned love, and remember me affectionately to 
Mr. Bacon, when you see him. Yours, my dear friend, 

WM. COWPER. 



CIX 

To Joseph Hill, Esq. 

Nov. 23, 1783. 

MY DEAR FRIEND, 

Your opinion of voyages and travels would spoil an 
appetite less keen than mine ; but being pretty much, 
perhaps more than any man who can be said to enjoy 
his liberty, confined to a spot, and being very desirous 
of knowing all that can be known of this same planet 
of ours, while I have the honour to belong to it, and 
having, besides, no other means of information at my 
command, I am constrained to be satisfied with narra- 
tives, not always, indeed, to be implicitly depended 
upon, but which, being subjected to the exercise of 
a little consideration, cannot materially deceive us. 
Swinburn's is a book I had fixed upon, and deter- 



262 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1783 

mined, if possible, to procure, being pleased with some 
extracts from it, which I found in the Review. I need 
hardly add that I shall be much obliged to Mrs. Hill 
for a sight of it. I account myself truly and much 
indebted to that lady for the trouble she is so kind as 
to take upon my account, and shall esteem myself her 
debtor for all the amusement I meet with, in the 
southern hemisphere, should I be so fortunate as to 
get there. My reading is pretty much circumscribed, 
both by want of books and the influence of particular 
reasons. Politics are my abhorrence, being almost 
always hypothetical, fluctuating, and impracticable. 
Philosophy I should have said natural philosophy, 
mathematically studied, does not suit me ; and such 
exhibitions of that subject, as are calculated for less 
learned readers, I have read in former days, and 
remember in the present. Poetry, English poetry, 
I never touch, being pretty much addicted to the 
writing of it, and knowing that much intercourse with 
those gentlemen betrays us unavoidably into a habit 
of imitation, which I hate and despise most cordially. 
I am glad my uncle is so well, and that he found 
new beauties in so old an acquaintance as the scene at 
Hastings. My most affectionate respects to him, if 
you please, when you see him next. If he be the 
happiest man, who has least money in the funds, there 
are few upon earth whom I have any occasion to envy. 
I would consent, however, to have my pounds multi- 
plied into thousands, even at the hazard of all I might 
feel from that tormenting passion. I send nothing to 



1783] TO JOSEPH HILL, ESQ. 263 

the papers myself, but Unwin sometimes sends for me. 
His receptacle of my squibs is the Public Advertiser ; 
but they are very few, and my present occupations are 
of a kind that will still have a tendency to make them 
fewer. -Yours, my dear friend, WM _ CowpER< 



CX 

To the Rev. William Unwin. 

Nov. 24, 1783. 

MY DEAR WILLIAM, 

An evening unexpectedly retired, and which your 
mother and I spend without company (an occurrence 
far from frequent), affords me a favourable opportu- 
nity to write by to-morrow's post, which else I could 
not have found. You are very good to consider my 
literary necessities with so much attention, and I feel 
proportionably grateful. Blair's Lectures (though I 
suppose they must make a part of my private studies, 
not being ad captum fceminarum} will be perfectly 
welcome. 

You say you felt my verses ; I assure you that in 
this you followed my example, for I felt them first. 
A man's lordship is nothing to me, any further than 
in connexion with qualities that entitle him to my 
respect. If he thinks himself privileged by it to 
treat me with neglect, I am his humble servant, and 
shall never be at a loss to render him an equivalent. 
I am however most angry with the manager. He has 



264 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1783 

published a book since he received mine, and has not 
vouchsafed to send it me; a requital which good 
manners, not to say the remembrance of former 
friendship, ought to have suggested. I will not, how- 
ever, belie my knowledge of mankind so much, as to 
seem surprised at treatment which I had abundant 
reason to expect. To these men, with whom I was 
once intimate, and for many years, I am no longer 
necessary, no longer convenient, or in any respect an 
object. They think of me as of the man in the 
moon, and whether I have a lantern, a dog and a 
faggot, or whether I have neither of those desirable 
accommodations, is to them a matter of perfect 
indifference : upon that point we are agreed, our 
indifference is mutual, and were I to publish again, 
which is not impossible, I should give them a proof 
of it. 

L'Estrange's Josephus has lately furnished us with 
evening lectures. But the historian is so tediously 
circumstantial, and the translator so insupportably 
coarse and vulgar, that we are all three weary of him. 
How would Tacitus have shone upon such a subject, 
great master as he was of the art of description, 
concise without obscurity, and affecting without being 
poetical. But so it was ordered, and for wise reasons 
no doubt, that the greatest calamities any people ever 
suffered, and an accomplishment of one of the most 
signal prophecies in the Scripture, should be recorded 
by one of the worst writers. The man was a tempo- 
rizer too, and courted the favour of his Roman masters 



1783] TO THE REV. WILLIAM UN WIN 265 

at the expense of his own creed ; or else an infidel, 
and absolutely disbelieved it. You will think me very 
difficult to please; I quarrel with Josephus for the 
want of elegance, and with some of our modern 
historians for having too much. With him, for 
running right forward like a gazette, without stopping 
to make a single observation by the way ; and with 
them, for pretending to delineate characters that 
existed two thousand years ago, and to discover 
the motives by which they were influenced, with the 
same precision as if they had been their con- 
temporaries. Simplicity is become a very rare 
quality in a writer. In the decline of great kingdoms, 
and where refinement in all the arts is carried to 
an excess, I suppose it is always rare. The latter 
Roman writers are remarkable for false ornament, 
they were yet no doubt admired by the readers 
of their own day; and with respect to authors 
of the present era, the most popular among them 
appear to me equally censurable on the same account. 
Swift and Addison were simple ; Pope knew how to 
be so, but was frequently tinged with affectation ; 
since their day I hardly know a celebrated writer 
who deserves the character. But your mother wants 
room for a postscript, so my lecture must conclude 
abruptly. Yours, w 



266 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1783 

CXI 
To the Rev. John Newton. 

Nov. 30, 1783. 

MY DEAR FRIEND, 

I have neither long visits to pay nor to receive, nor 
ladies to spend hours in telling me that which might 
be told in five minutes, yet often find myself obliged 
to be an economist of time, and to make the most of 
a short opportunity. Let our station be as retired as 
it may, there is no want of playthings and avocations, 
nor much need to seek them, in this world of ours. 
Business, or what presents itself to us under that 
imposing character, will find us out, even in the stillest 
retreat, and plead its importance, however trivial in 
reality, as a just demand upon our attention. It is 
wonderful how by means of such real or seeming 
necessities, my time is stolen away. I have just time 
to observe that time is short, and by the time I have 
made the observation, time is gone. I have wondered 
in former days at the patience of the Antediluvian 
world ; that they could endure a life almost millenary, 
with so little variety as seems to have fallen to their 
share. It is probable that they had much fewer 
employments than we. Their affairs lay in a narrower 
compass ; their libraries were indifferently furnished ; 
philosophical researches were carried on with much 
less industry and acuteness of penetration, and fiddles, 
perhaps, were not even invented. How then could 



1783] TO THE REV. JOHN NEWTON 267 

seven or eight hundred years of life be supportable ? 
I have asked this question formerly, and been at a loss 
to resolve it ; but I think I can answer it now. I will 
suppose myself born a thousand years before Noah 
was born or thought of. I rise with the sun ; I 
worship ; I prepare my breakfast ; I swallow a bucket 
of goats' milk, and a dozen good sizeable cakes. I fasten 
a new string to my bow, and my youngest boy, a lad 
of about thirty years of age, having played with my 
arrows till he has stript off all the feathers, I find 
myself obliged to repair them. The morning is thus 
spent in preparing for the chace, and it is become 
necessary that I should dine. I dig up my roots ; I 
wash them; I boil them; I find them not done enough, 
I boil them again ; my wife is angry ; we dispute ; we 
settle the point ; but in the mean time the fire goes 
out, and must be kindled again. All this is very 
amusing. I hunt ; I bring home the prey ; with the 
skin of it I mend an old coat, or I make a new one. 
By this time the day is far spent ; I feel myself 
fatigued, and retire to rest. Thus what with tilling 
the ground and eating the fruit of it, hunting and 
walking, and running, and mending old clothes, and 
sleeping and rising again, I can suppose an inhabitant 
of the primaeval world so much occupied, as to sigh 
over the shortness of life, and to find at the end of 
many centuries, that they had all slipt through his 
fingers, and were passed away like a shadow. What 
wonder then that I, who live in a day of so much 
greater refinement, when there is so much more to be 



268 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1783 

wanted, and wished, and to be enjoyed, should feel 
myself now and then pinched in point of opportunity, 
and at some loss for leisure to fill four sides of a 
sheet like this? Thus, however, it is, and if the 
ancient gentlemen to whom I have referred, and their 
complaints of the disproportion of time to the occa- 
sions they had for it, will not serve me as an excuse, I 
must even plead guilty, and confess that I am often in 
haste, when I have no good reason for being so. 

This by way of introduction ; now for my letter. 
Mr. Scott is desired by Mr. De Coetlegon to contribute 
to the Theological Review, of which, I suppose, that 
gentleman is a manager. He says he has insured 
your assistance, and at the same time desires mine, 
either in prose or verse. He did well to apply to you, 
because you can afford him substantial help ; but as 
for me, had he known me better, he would never have 
suspected me for a theologian, either in rhyme or 
otherwise. 

Lord Dartmouth's Mr. Wright spent near two 
hours with me this morning ; a respectable old man, 
whom I always see with pleasure, both for his master's 
sake and for his own. I was glad to learn from him 
that his lordship has better health than he has enjoyed 
for some years. Believe me, my dear friend, your 
affectionate > CowpER> 



TO THE REV. JOHN NEWTON 269 

CXII 

To the Rev. John Newton. 

Dec. 15, 1783. 
My DEAR FRIEND, 

I know not how it fares with you, at a time when 
philosophy has just brought forth her most extraordin- 
ary production, not excepting, perhaps, that prodigy, 
a ship, in all respects complete, and equal to the task 
of circumnavigating the globe. My mind, however, 
is frequently getting into these balloons, and is busy in 
multiplying speculations as airy as the regions through 
which they pass. The last account from France, 
which seems so well authenticated, has changed my 
jocularity upon this occasion into serious expectation. 
The invention of these new vehicles is yet in its infancy, 
yet already they seem to have attained a degree of 
perfection which navigation did not reach, till ages of 
experience had matured it, and science had exhausted 
both her industry and her skill, in its improvement. 
I am aware, indeed, that the first boat or canoe that 
was ever formed, though rude in its construction 
perhaps not constructed at all, being only a hollow tree 
that had fallen casually in the water, and which, though 
furnished with neither sails nor oars, might yet be 
guided by a pole was a more perfect creature in its 
kind than a balloon at present; the single circumstance 
of its manageable nature giving it a clear superiority 
both in respect of safety and convenience. But the 



270 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1783 

atmosphere, though a much thinner medium, we well 
know, resists the impression made upon it by the tail of 
a bird, as effectually as the water that of a ship's rudder. 
Pope, when inculcating one of his few useful lessons, 
and directing mankind to the providence of God as 
the true source of all their wisdom, says beautifully 

Learn of the little Nautilus to sail, 

Spread the thin oar, and catch the driving gale. 

It is easy to parody these lines, so as to give them 
an accommodation and suitableness to the present 
purpose. 

Learn of the circle-making kite to fly. 
Spread the fan-tail, and wheel about the sky. 

It is certain, at least, that nothing within the reach 
of human ingenuity will be left unattempted to accom- 
plish, and add all that is wanting to this last effort of 
philosophical contrivance. The approximating powers 
of the telescope, and the powers by which the thunder- 
storm is delivered of its contents peaceably and with- 
out mischief, were once, perhaps, in appearance more 
remote from discovery, and seemed less practicable, 
than we may now suppose it, to give direction to that 
which is already buoyant ; especially possessed as we 
are of such consummate mechanical skill, already 
masters of principles which we have nothing to do 
but to apply, of which we have already availed our- 
selves in the similar case of navigation, and having in 
every fowl of the air a pattern, which now at length it 
may be sufficient to imitate. Wings and a tail, indeed, 



1783] TO THE REV. JOHN NEWTON 271 

were of little use, while the body, so much heavier 
than the space of air it occupied, was sure to sink by 
its own weight, and could never be held in equipoise 
by any implements of the kind which human strength 
could manage. But now we float ; at random, indeed, 
pretty much, and as the wind drives us ; for want of 
nothing, however, but that steerage which invention, 
the conqueror of many equal, if not superior difficulties, 
may be expected to supply. Should the point be 
carried, and man at last become as familiar with the 
air as he has long been with the ocean, will it in its con- 
sequences prove a mercy, or a judgement ? I think, 
a judgement. First, because if a power to convey 
himself from place to place, like a bird, would have 
been good for him, his Maker would have formed 
him with such a capacity. But he has been a groveller 
upon the earth for six thousand years, and now at 
last, when the close of this present state of things 
approaches, begins to exalt himself above it. So 
much the worse for him. Like a truant school-boy, 
he breaks his bounds, and will have reason to repent 
of his presumption. Secondly, I think it will prove a 
judgement, because, with the exercise of very little 
foresight, it is easy to prognosticate a thousand evils 
which the project must necessarily bring after it; 
amounting at last to the confusion of all order, the 
annihilation of all authority, with dangers both to 
property and person, and impunity to the offenders. 
Were I an absolute legislator, I would therefore make 
it death for a man to be convicted of flying, the 



272 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1783 

moment he could be caught ; and to bring him down 
from his altitudes by a bullet sent through his head 
or his carriage, should be no murder. Philosophers 
would call me a Vandal ; the scholar would say that, 
had it not been for me, the fable of Daedalus would 
have been realized; and historians would load my 
memory with reproaches of phlegm, and stupidity, and 
oppression ; but in the mean time the world would go 
on quietly, and if it enjoyed less liberty, would at least 
be more secure. 

I know not what are your sentiments upon the 
subject of the East India Bill. 1 This, too, has fre- 
quently afforded me matter of speculation. I can 
easily see that it is not without its blemishes ; but its 
beauties, in my eye, are much predominant. What- 
ever may be its author's views, if he delivers so large 
a portion of mankind from such horrible tyranny as 
the East has so long suffered, he deserves a statue 
much more than Montgolfier, who, it seems, is to 
receive that honour. Perhaps he may bring our own 
freedom into jeopardy ; but to do this for the sake of 
emancipating nations so much more numerous than 
ourselves, is at least generous, and a design that 
should have my encouragement, if I had any en- 
couragement to afford it. 

We are well, and love you. Remember us, as I 
doubt not you do, with the same affection, and be 
content with my sentiments upon subjects such as 

1 Fox's bill for the better government of British India. Burke 
spoke in favour of it, December i, 1783, It was thrown out 
through the influence of George III. 



1784] TO THE REV. JOHN NEWTON 273 

these, till I can send you, if that day should ever 
come, a letter more worthy of your reception. Nous 
sommes les votres, GUILLAUME ET MARIE. 



CXIII 

To the Rev. William Unwin. 

Jan. 3, 1784. 

MY DEAR WILLIAM, 

Your silence began to be distressing both to your 
mother and me, and had I not received a letter from 
you last night, I should have written by this post to 
enquire after your health. How can it be, that you, 
who are not stationary like me, but often change your 
situation and mix with a variety of company, should 
suppose me furnished with such abundant materials, 
and yourself destitute? I assure you faithfully, that 
I do not find the soil of Olney prolific in the growth 
of such articles as make letter-writing a desirable 
employment. No place contributes less to the 
catalogue of incidents, or is more scantily supplied 
with anecdotes worth notice. 

We have 

One parson, one poet, one belman, one crier, 
And the poor poet is our only 'squire. 

Guess then if I have not more reason to expect two 
letters from you, than you one from me. The 
principal occurrence, and that which affects me most 
at present, came to pass this moment. The stair-foot 

VOL. I T 



274 LETTERS FROM OLtfEY [1784 

door being swelled by the thaw, would do any thing 
better than it would open. An attempt to force it 
upon that office has been attended with such a horrible 
dissolution of its parts, that we were immediately 
obliged to introduce a chirurgeon, commonly called 
a carpenter, whose applications we have some hope 
will cure it of a locked jaw, and heal its numerous 
fractures. His medicines are powerful chalybeates, 
and a certain glutinous salve, which he tells me is 
made of the tails and ears of animals. The con- 
sequences however are rather unfavourable to my 
present employment, which does not well brook noise, 
bustle, and interruption. 

This being the case, I shall not perhaps be either 
so perspicuous, or so diffuse, on the subject of which 
you desire my sentiments, as I should be ; but I will 
do my best. Know then that I have learnt long since, 
of Abbe Raynal, 1 to hate all monopolies, as injurious, 
howsoever managed, to the interests of commerce at 
large : consequently the charter in question would not 
at any rate be a favourite of mine. This however is 
of itself I confess no sufficient reason to justify the 
resumption of it. But such reasons I think are not 
wanting. A grant of that kind, it is well known, is 
always forfeited by the nonperformance of the con- 
ditions. And why not equally forfeited, if those 
conditions are exceeded, if the design of it be per- 

1 Author of Histoire philosophique et politique des fetablissements 
et du Commerce des Europtens dans les Deux Indes, published in 
1772. The book was translated into English. 



1784] TO THE REV. WILLIAM UNWIN 275 

verted, and its operation extended to objects which 
were never in the contemplation of the donor ? This 
appears to me to be no misrepresentation of their 
case, whose charter is supposed to be in danger. It 
constitutes them a trading company, and gives them 
an exclusive right to traffic in the East Indies. 
But it does no more. It invests them with no 
sovereignty ; it does not convey to them the royal 
prerogative of making war and peace, which the 
king cannot alienate if he would. But this pre- 
rogative they have exercised, and, forgetting the 
terms of their institution, have possessed themselves 
of an immense territory, which they have ruled with 
a rod of iron, to which it is impossible they should 
ever have a right, unless such a one as it is a disgrace 
to plead, the right of conquest. The potentates of 
this country they dash in pieces like a potter's vessel, 
as often as they please, making the happiness of 
thirty millions of mankind a consideration subordinate 
to that of their own emolument, oppressing them 
as often as it may serve a lucrative purpose, and in no 
instance, that I have ever heard, consulting their 
interest or advantage. That government therefore is 
bound to interfere, and to unking these tyrants, is to 
me self-evident. And if having subjugated so much 
of this miserable world, it is therefore necessary that 
we must keep possession of it, it appears to me a 
duty so binding upon the legislature to rescue it from 
the hands of those usurpers, that I should think a 
curse, and a bitter one, must follow the neglect of it. 



276 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1784 

But suppose this were done, can they be legally 
deprived of their charter? In truth I think so. If 
the abuse and perversion of a charter can amount to 
a defeasance of it, never were they so grossly palpable 
as in this instance; never was charter so justly 
forfeited. Neither am I at all afraid that such a 
measure should be drawn into a precedent, unless it 
could be alleged as a sufficient reason for not hanging 
a rogue, that perhaps magistracy might grow wanton 
in the exercise of such a power, and now and then 
hang up an honest man for its amusement. When 
the governors of the bank shall have deserved the 
same severity, I hope they will meet with it. In the 
mean time I do not think them a whit more in 
jeopardy because a corporation of plunderers have 
been brought to justice. 

We are well, and love you all. I never wrote in 
such a hurry, nor in such disturbance. Pardon the 
effects, and believe me yours affectionately, 

W. C. 



CXIV 

To the Rev. John Newton. 

Feb. 10, 1784. 

MY DEAR FRIEND, 

The morning is my writing time, and in the morning 
I have no spirits. So much the worse for my corre- 
spondents. Sleep, that refreshes my body, seems to 



TO THE REV. JOHN NEWTON 277 

cripple me in every other respect. As the evening 
approaches, I grow more alert, and when I am retiring 
to bed, am more fit for mental occupation than at any 
other time. So it fares with us whom they call nervous. 
By a strange inversion of the animal economy, we 
are ready to sleep when we have most need to be 
awake, and go to bed just when we might sit up to 
some purpose. The watch is irregularly wound up, it 
goes in the night when it is not wanted, and in the day 
stands still. In many respects we have the advantage 
of our forefathers the Picts. We sleep in a whole skin, 
and are not obliged to submit to the painful operation 
of puncturing ourselves from head to foot, in order 
that we may be decently dressed, and fit to appear 
abroad. But on the other hand, we have reason 
enough to envy them their tone of nerves, and that 
flow of spirits which effectually secured them from all 
uncomfortable impressions of a gloomy atmosphere, 
and from every shade of melancholy from every other 
cause. They understood, I suppose, the use of vul- 
nerary herbs, having frequent occasion for some skill 
in surgery ; but physicians, I presume they had none, 
having no need of any. Is it possible, that a creature 
like myself can be descended from such progenitors, in 
whom there appears not a single trace of family resem- 
blance ? What an alteration have a few ages made ! 
They, without clothing, would defy the severest sea- 
son ; and I, with all the accommodations that art has 
since invented, am hardly secure even in the mildest. 
If the wind blows upon me when my pores are open, 



278 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1784 

I catch cold. A cough is the consequence. I sup- 
pose if such a disorder could have seized a Pict, his 
friends would have concluded that a bone had stuck 
in his throat, and that he was in some danger of chok- 
ing. They would perhaps have addressed themselves 
to the cure of his cough by thrusting their fingers into 
his gullet, which would only have exasperated the case. 
But they would never have thought of administering 
laudanum, my only remedy. For this difference how- 
ever that has obtained between me and my ancestors, 
I am indebted to the luxurious practices, and en- 
feebling self-indulgence, of a long line of grandsires, who 
from generation to generation have been employed in 
deteriorating the breed, till at last the collected effects 
of all their follies have centred in my puny self, a 
man indeed, but not in the image of those that went 
before me ; a man, who sighs and groans, who wears 
out life in dejection and oppression of spirits, and who 
never thinks of the aborigines of the country to which 
he belongs, without wishing that he had been born 
among them. The evil is without a remedy, unless 
the ages that are passed could be recalled, my whole 
pedigree be permitted to live again, and being properly 
admonished to beware of enervating sloth and re- 
finement, would preserve their hardiness of nature 
unimpaired, and transmit the desirable quality to their 
posterity. I once saw Adam in a dream. We some- 
times say of a picture, that we doubt not its likeness 
to the original, though we never saw him ; a judgement 
we have some reason to form, when the face is strongly 



1784] TO THE REV. JOHN NEWTON 279 

charactered, and the features full of expression. So I 
think of my visionary Adam, and for a similar reason. 
His figure was awkward indeed in the extreme. It 
was evident that he had never been taught by a 
Frenchman to hold his head erect, or to turn out his 
toes ; to dispose gracefully of his arms, or to simper 
without a meaning. But if Mr. Bacon was called 
upon to produce a statue of Hercules, he need not 
wish for a juster pattern. He stood like a rock ; the 
size of his limbs, the prominence of his muscles, and 
the height of his stature, all conspired to bespeak him 
a creature whose strength had suffered no diminution ; 
and who, being the first of his race, did not come into 
the world under a necessity of sustaining a load of 
infirmities, derived to him from the intemperance of 
others. He was as much stouter than a Pict, as I 
suppose a Pict to have been than I. Upon my hypo- 
thesis, therefore, there has been a gradual declension, 
in point of bodily vigour, from Adam down to me : at 
least if my dream were a just representation of that 
gentleman, and deserve the credit I cannot help giving 
it, such must have been the case. Yours, my dear 
friend, 



cxv 

To the Rev. John Newton. 

March 19, 1784. 

MY DEAR FRIEND, 

I wish it were in my power to give you any account 



28o LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1784 

of the Marquis Caraccioli. Some years since I saw a 
short history of him in the Review, of which I recollect 
no particulars, except that he was (and for aught I 
know may be still) an officer in the Prussian service. 
I have two volumes of his works, lent me by Lady 
Austen. One is upon the subject of self-acquaintance, 
and the other treats of the art of conversing with the 
same gentleman. Had I pursued my purpose of trans- 
lating him, my design was to have furnished myself, if 
possible, with some authentic account of him, which 
I suppose may be procured at any bookseller's who 
deals in foreign publications. But for the reasons 
given in my last I have laid aside the design. There 
is something in his style that touches me exceedingly, 
and which I do not know how to describe. I should 
call it pathetic, if it were occasional only, and never 
occurred but when his subject happened to be parti- 
cularly affecting. But it is universal; he has not a 
sentence that is not marked with it. Perhaps there- 
fore I may describe it better by saying, that his whole 
work has an air of pious and tender melancholy, 
which to me at least is extremely agreeable. This 
property of it, which depends perhaps altogether upon 
the arrangement of his words, and the modulation of 
his sentences, it would be very difficult to preserve in 
a translation. I do not know that our language is 
capable of being so managed, and rather suspect that 
it is not, and that it is peculiar to the French, because 
it is not unfrequent among their writers, and I never 
saw any thing similar to it in our own. 



1784] TO THE REV. JOHN NEWTON 281 

I converse, you say, upon other subjects, than that 
of despair, and may therefore write upon others. In- 
deed, my friend, I am a man of very little conversation 
upon any subject. From that of despair I abstain as 
much as possible, for the sake of my company ; but I 
will venture to say that it is never out of my mind one 
minute in the whole day. I do not mean to say that 
I am never cheerful. I am often so ; always, indeed, 
when my nights have been undisturbed for a season. 
But the effect of such continual listening to the lan- 
guage of a heart hopeless and deserted, is, that I can 
never give much more than half my attention to what 
is started by others, and very rarely start any thing 
myself. My silence, however, and my absence of 
mind, make me sometimes as entertaining as if I had 
wit. They furnish an occasion for friendly and good- 
natured raillery ; they raise a laugh, and I partake of 
it. But you will easily perceive that a mind thus 
occupied is but indifferently qualified for the considera- 
tion of theological matters. The most useful and the 
most delightful topics of that kind are to me forbidden 
fruit; I tremble if I approach them. It has happened 
to me sometimes that I have found myself imper- 
ceptibly drawn in, and made a party in such discourse. 
The consequence has been, dissatisfaction and self- 
reproach. You will tell me, perhaps, that I have 
written upon these subjects in verse, and may, there- 
fore, if I please, in prose. But there is a difference. 
The search after poetical expression, the rhyme, and 
the numbers, are all affairs of some difficulty; they 



282 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1784 

amuse, indeed, but are not to be attained without 
study, and engross, perhaps, a larger share of the 
attention than the subject itself. Persons fond of 
music will sometimes find pleasure in the tune, when 
the words afford them none. There are, however, 
subjects that do not always terrify me by their import- 
ance; such, I mean, as relate to Christian life and 
manners ; and when such an one presents itself, and 
finds me in a frame of mind that does not absolutely 
forbid the employment, I shall most readily give it 
my attention, for the sake, however, of your request 
merely. Verse is my favourite occupation, and what 
I compose in that way, I reserve for my own use here- 
after. 

My evenings are devoted to books. I read aloud 
for the entertainment of the party, thus making 
amends by a vociferation of two hours for my silence 
at other times. 

I have lately finished eight volumes of Johnson's 
Prefaces^ or Lives of the Poets. In all that number 
I observe but one man, a poet of no great fame, of 
whom I did not know that he existed till I found him 
there, whose mind seems to have had the slightest 
tincture of religion ; and he was hardly in his senses. 
His name was Collins. He sunk into a state of 
melancholy, and died young. Not long before his 
death, he was found at his lodgings in Islington by 
his biographer, with the New Testament in his hand 
He said to Johnson, " I have but one book, but it is 
the best." Of him, therefore, there are some hopes. 



1784] TO THE REV. JOHN NEWTON 283 

But from the lives of all the rest there is but one 
inference to be drawn : that poets are a very worthless, 
wicked set of people. 

Mrs. Unwin sends her love ; she is much obliged 
to Mrs. Newton for the care she has taken about the 
worsted. She had no suspicion that Mrs. Newton 
had forgot it, but supposed her correspondent might. 
We are in good health, and waiting as patiently as we 
can for the end of this second winter. The news is 
that the brother of farmer Rush, a very sober young 
man, was driving his waggon last week to Bedford, 
and in the way ordered his man forward with the 
team, saying he would follow him, but he has never 
been heard of since. Yours, my dear friends, truly, 

WM. C. 



CXVI 

To the Rev. William Unwin. 

March 21, 1784. 

MY DEAR WILLIAM, 

I thank you for the entertainment you have afforded 
me. I often wish for a library, often regret my folly 
in selling a good collection ; but I have one in Essex. 
It is rather remote, indeed, too distant for occasional 
reference; but it serves the purpose of amusement, 
and a waggon being a very suitable vehicle for an 
author, I find myself commodiously supplied. Last 
night I made an end of reading Johnson's Prefaces ; 



284 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1784 

but the number of poets whom he has vouchsafed to 
chronicle being fifty-six, there must be many with 
whose history I am not yet acquainted. These, or 
some of these, if it suits you to give them a part of 
your chaise, when you come, will be heartily welcome. 
I am very much the biographer's humble admirer. 
His uncommon share of good sense, and his forcible 
expression, secure to him that tribute from all his 
readers. He has a penetrating insight into character, 
and a happy talent of correcting the popular opinion, 
upon all occasions where it is erroneous ; and this he 
does with the boldness of a man who will think for 
himself, but, at the same time, with a justness of 
sentiment that convinces us he does not differ from 
others through affectation, but because he has a sounder 
judgement. This remark, however, has his narrative 
for its object, rather than his critical performance. In 
the latter, I do not think him always just, when he 
departs from the general opinion. He finds no beau- 
ties in Milton's Lyridas. He pours contempt upon 
Prior, to such a degree, that were he really as unde- 
serving of notice as he represents him, he ought no 
longer to be numbered among the poets. These, in- 
deed, are the two capital instances in which he has 
offended me. There are others less important, which 
I have not room to enumerate, and in which I am less 
confident that he is wrong. What suggested to him 
the thought that the Alma 1 was written in imitation of 
Hudibras, I cannot conceive. In former years, they 
1 The title of one of Prior's poems. 



1784] TO THE REV. WILLIAM UN WIN 285 

were both favourites of mine, and I often read them ; 
but never saw in them the least resemblance to each 
other ; nor do I now, except that they are composed 
in verse of the same measure. After all, it is a melan- 
choly observation, which it is impossible not to make, 
after having run through this series of poetical lives, 
that where there were such shining talents, there 
should be so little virtue. These luminaries of our 
country seem to have been kindled into a brighter 
blaze than others, only that their spots might be more 
noticed ! So much can nature do for our intellectual 
part, and so little for our moral. What vanity, what 
petulance in Pope ! How painfully sensible of censure, 
and yet how restless in provocation ! To what mean 
artifices could Addison stoop, in hopes of injuring the 
reputation of his friend ! Savage, how sordidly vicious, 
and the more condemned for the pains that are taken 
to palliate his vices. Offensive as they appear through 
a veil, how would they disgust without one. What a 
sycophant to the public taste was Dryden; sinning 
against his feelings, lewd in his writings, though 
chaste in his conversation. I know not but one might 
search these eight volumes with a candle, as the 
prophet says, to find a man, and not find one, unless, 
perhaps, Arbuthnot were he. 

I shall begin Beattie this evening, and propose to 
myself much satisfaction in reading him. In him, at 
least, I shall find a man whose faculties have now and 
then a glimpse from Heaven upon them ; a man, not 
indeed in possession of much evangelical light, but 



286 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1784 

faithful to what he has, and never neglecting an op- 
portunity to use it. How much more respectable such 
a character, than that of thousands who would call him 
blind, and yet have not the grace to practise half his 
virtues ! He, too, is a poet, and wrote the Minstrel. 
The specimens which I have seen of it pleased me 
much. If you have the whole, I should be glad to 
read it. I may, perhaps, since you allow me the liberty, 
indulge myself here and there, with a marginal anno- 
tation, but shall not use that allowance wantonly, so as 
to deface the volumes. 

Your mother wishes you to buy for her ten yards 
and a half of yard-wide Irish, from two shillings to two 
shillings and sixpence per yard ; and my head Will be 
equally obliged to you for a hat, of which I enclose a 
string that gives you the circumference. The depth 
of the crown must be four inches and one-eighth. Let 
it not be a round slouch, which I abhor, but a smart 
well-cocked fashionable affair. A fashionable hat like- 
wise for your mother ; a black one if they are worn, 
otherwise chip. Yours, my dear William, 



CXVII 

To the Rev. John Newton. 

March 29, 1784. 

MY DEAR FRIEND, 

It being his majesty's pleasure that I should yet have 
another opportunity to write before he dissolves the 



1784] TO THE REV. JOHN NEWTON 287 

parliament, I avail myself of it with all possible alacrity. 
I thank you for your last, which was not the less 
welcome for coming, like an extraordinary gazette, at 
a time when it was not expected. 

As when the sea is uncommonly agitated, the water 
finds its way into creeks and holes of rocks, which in 
its calmer state it never reaches, in like manner the 
effect of these turbulent times is felt even at Orchard 
side, where in general we live as undisturbed by the 
political element, as shrimps or cockles that have been 
accidentally deposited in some hollow beyond the 
water mark, by the usual dashing of the waves. We 
were sitting yesterday after dinner, the two ladies and 
myself, very composedly, and without the least appre- 
hension of any such intrusion in our snug parlour, one 
lady knitting, the other netting, and the gentleman 
winding worsted, when to our unspeakable surprise a 
mob appeared before the window; a smart rap was 
heard at the door, the boys halloo'd, and the maid 
announced Mr. Grenville. Puss l was unfortunately let 
out of her box, so that the candidate, with all his good 
friends at his heels, was refused admittance at the 
grand entry, and referred to the back door, as the only 
possible way of approach. 

Candidates are creatures not very susceptible of 
affronts, and would rather, I suppose, climb in at a 
window, than be absolutely excluded. In a minute, the 
yard, the kitchen, and the parlour, were filled. Mr. 
Grenville advancing toward me shook me by the hand 

1 His tame hare. 



288 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1784 

with a degree of cordiality that was extremely seducing. 
As soon as he and as many more as could find chairs 
were seated, he began to open the intent of his visit. I 
told him I had no vote, for which he readily gave me 
credit. I assured him I had no influence, which he 
was not equally inclined to believe, and the less, no 
doubt, because Mr. Ashburner, the drapier, addressing 
himself to me at this moment, informed me that I had 
a great deal. Supposing that I could not be possessed 
of such a treasure without knowing it, I ventured to 
confirm my first assertion, by saying, that if I had any 
I was utterly at a loss to imagine where it could be, 
or wherein it consisted. Thus ended the conference. 
Mr. Grenville squeezed me by the hand again, kissed 
the ladies, and withdrew. He kissed likewise the 
maid in the kitchen, and seemed upon the whole a 
most loving, kissing, kind-hearted gentleman. He is 
very young, genteel, and handsome. He has a pair 
of very good eyes in his head, which not being suffi- 
cient as it should seem for the many nice and difficult 
purposes of a senator, he has a third also, which he 
wore suspended by a ribband from his buttonhole. 
The boys halloo'd, the dogs barked, Puss scampered, 
the hero, with his long train of obsequious followers, 
withdrew. We made ourselves very merry with the 
adventure, and in a short time settled into our former 
tranquillity, never probably to be thus interrupted 
more. I thought myself, however, happy in being 
able to affirm truly that I had not that influence for 
which he sued ; and which, had I been possessed of 



1784] TO THE REV. JOHN NEWTON 289 

it, with my present views of the dispute between the 
Crown and the Commons, I must have refused him, 
for he is on the side of the former. It is comfortable 
to be of no consequence in a world where one cannot 
exercise any without disobliging somebody. The town 
however seems to be much at his service, and if he be 
equally successful throughout the county, he will un- 
doubtedly gain his election. Mr. Ashburner perhaps 
was a little mortified, because it was evident that I 
owed the honour of this visit to his misrepresenta- 
tion of my importance. But had he thought proper 
to assure Mr. Grenville that I had three heads, I 
should not I suppose have been bound to produce 
them. 

Mr. Scott, who you say was so much admired in 
your pulpit, would be equally admired in his own, at 
least by all capable judges, were he not so apt to be 
angry with his congregation. This hurts him, and 
had he the understanding and eloquence of Paul 
himself, would still hurt him. He seldom, hardly ever 
indeed, preaches a gentle, well-tempered sermon, but 
I hear it highly commended : but warmth of temper, 
indulged to a degree that may be called scolding, 
defeats the end of preaching. It is a misapplication 
of his powers, which it also cripples, and teases away 
his hearers. But he is a good man, and may perhaps 
outgrow it. 

Many thanks for the worsted, which is excellent. 
We are as well as a spring hardly less severe than the 
severest winter will give us leave to be. With our 
VOL. i u 



290 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1784 

united love, we conclude ourselves yours and Mrs. 

Newton's affectionate and faithful 

w. c. 

M. U. 

CXVIII 

To the Rev. William Unwin. 

April 5, 1784. 

MY DEAR WILLIAM, 

The hat which I desired you to procure for me, I now 
write to desire that you will not procure. Do not 
hastily infer that I mean to go about bareheaded : the 
whole of the matter is, that a readier method of supply 
has presented itself since I wrote. 

I thanked you in my last for Johnson ; I now thank 
you, with more emphasis, for Beattie, the most agree- 
able and amiable writer I ever met with ; the only 
author I have seen whose critical and philosophical 
researches are diversified and embellished by a poeti- 
cal imagination, that makes even the driest subject, 
and the leanest, a feast for an epicure in books. He 
is so much at his ease too, that his own character 
appears in every page, and which is very rare, we see 
not only the writer but the man : and that man so 
gentle, so well-tempered, so happy in his religion, 
and so humane in his philosophy, that it is necessary 
to love him, if one has the least sense of what is 
lovely. If you have not his poem called The Minstrel 
and cannot borrow it, I must beg you to buy it for 
me ; for though I cannot afford to deal largely in so 



1784] TO THE REV. WILLIAM UNWIN 291 

expensive a commodity as books, I must afford to 
purchase at least the poetical works of Beattie. 

I have read six of Blair's Lectures, and what do I say 
of Blair ? That he is a sensible man, master of his 
subject, and excepting here and there a Scotticism, a 
good writer, so far at least as perspicuity of expression, 
and method, contribute to make one. But oh the 
sterility of that man's fancy ! if indeed he has any 
such faculty belonging to him. Perhaps philosophers, 
or men designed for such, are sometimes born without 
one ; or perhaps it withers for want of exercise. How- 
ever that may be, Doctor Blair has such a brain as 
Shakespeare somewhere describes as "dry as the 
remainder biscuit after a voyage." 

I take it for granted that these good men are philo- 
sophically correct (for they are both agreed upon the 
subject) in their account of the origin of language ; 
and if the Scripture had left us in the dark upon that 
article, I should very readily adopt their hypothesis 
for want of better information. I should suppose, for 
instance, that man made his first effort in speech in 
the way of an interjection, and that ah, or oh, being 
uttered with wonderful gesticulation, and variety of 
attitude, must have left his powers of expression quite 
exhausted : that in a course of time he would invent 
names for many things, but first for the objects of his 
daily wants. An apple would consequently be called 
an apple, and perhaps not many years would elapse 
before the appellation would receive the sanction of 
general use. In this case, and upon this supposition, 



292 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1784 

seeing one in the hand of another man, he would ex- 
claim with a most moving pathos, " Oh apple ! " Well 
and good oh apple ! is a very affecting speech, but 
in the meantime it profits him nothing. The man 
that holds it, eats it, and he goes away with "oh apple" 
in his mouth, and with nothing better. Reflecting upon 
his disappointment, and that perhaps it arose from his 
not being more explicit, he contrives a term to denote 
his idea of transfer or gratuitous communication, and 
the next occasion that offers of a similar kind, per- 
forms his part accordingly. His speech now stands 
thus, " O give apple ! " The apple-holder perceives 
himself called upon to part with his fruit, and, having 
satisfied his own hunger, is perhaps not unwilling to 
do so. But unfortunately there is still room for a 
mistake, and a third person being present, he gives 
the apple to him. Again disappointed, and again 
perceiving that his language has not all the precision 
that is requisite, the orator retires to his study, and 
there, after much deep thinking, conceives that the 
insertion of a pronoun, whose office shall be to signify 
that he not only wants the apple to be given, but 
given to himself, will remedy all defects, he uses it the 
next opportunity, and succeeds to a wonder, obtains 
the apple, and by his success such credit to his inven- 
tion, that pronouns continue to be in great repute 
ever after. 

Now as my two syllablemongers, Beattie and Blair, 
both agree that language was originally inspired, and 
that the great variety of languages we find upon earth 



1784] TO THE REV. WILLIAM UN WIN 293 

at present took its rise from the confusion of tongues 
at Babel, I am not perfectly convinced that there is 
any just occasion to invent this very ingenious solution 
of a difficulty, which Scripture has solved already. 
My opinion however is, if I may presume to have an 
opinion of my own, so different from theirs who are so 
much wiser than myself, that if man had been his own 
teacher, and had acquired his words and his phrases 
only as necessity or convenience had prompted, his 
progress must have been considerably slower than it 
was, and in Homer's days the production of such a 
poem as the Iliad impossible. On the contrary, I 
doubt not that Adam on the very day of his creation 
was able to express himself in terms both forcible and 
elegant, and that he was at no loss for sublime diction, 
and logical combination, when he wanted to praise his 
Maker. Yours, my dear friend, 

VV \^f* 



CXIX 

To the Rev. William Unwin. 

April 25, 1784. 

MY DEAR WILLIAM, 

I wish I had both burning words, and bright thoughts, 
but have at present neither. My head is not itself. 
Having had an unpleasant night, and a melancholy 
day, and having already written a long letter, I do not 
find myself in point of spirits at all qualified either to 
burn or shine. The post sets out early on Tuesday. 



294 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1784 

The morning is the only time of exercise with me. In 
order therefore to keep it open for that purpose, and 
to comply with your desire of an immediate answer, I 
give to you as much as I can spare of the present 
evening. I have also been ill with a rheumatism in 
my back, which though in a great measure removed, 
has left an aching sensation behind it, which my pre- 
sent occupation makes me feel more sensibly. Do not 
imagine that I have a design to enhance the merit of 
my punctuality by an enumeration of the difficulties 
under which I observe it. I mean no more than an 
apology for sending you a sheet, which, when it arrives, 
you will not find it worthy of your perusal. 

Since I despatched my last, Blair has crept a little 
further into my favour. As his subjects improve, he 
improves with them ; but upon the whole I account 
him a dry writer, useful no doubt as an instructor, but 
as little entertaining as with so much knowledge it is 
possible to be. His language is, (except Swift's,) the 
least figurative I remember to have seen, and the few 
figures found in it are not always happily employed. 
I take him to be a critic very little animated by what 
he reads, who rather reasons about the beauties of an 
author, than really tastes them ; and who finds that 
a passage is praiseworthy, not because it charms him, 
but because it is accommodated to the laws of criti- 
cism in that case made and provided. I have a little 
complied with your desire of marginal annotations, 
and should have dealt in them more largely, had I 
read the books to myself; but being reader to the 



1784] TO THE REV. WILLIAM UNWIN 295 

ladies, I have not always time to settle my own 
opinion of a doubtful expression, much less to suggest 
an emendation. I have not censured a particular ob- 
servation in the book, though when I met with it, it 
displeased me. I this moment recollect it, and may as 
well therefore note it here. He is commending, and 
deservedly, that most noble description of a thunder- 
storm in the first Georgic, which ends with 

Ingeminant ausfri, et densissimus imber. 

Being in haste, I do not refer to the volume for his 
very words, but my memory will serve me with the 
matter. When poets describe, he says, they should 
always select such circumstances of the subject as are 
least obvious, and consequently most striking. He 
therefore admires the effects of the thunderbolt splitting 
mountains, and filling a nation with astonishment, but 
quarrels with the closing member of the period, as 
containing particulars of a storm not worthy of Virgil's 
notice, because obvious to the notice of all. But here 
I differ from him ; not being able to conceive that 
wind and rain can be improper in the description of 
a tempest, or how wind and rain could possibly be 
more poetically described. Virgil is indeed remarkable 
for finishing his periods well, and never comes to a 
stop but with the most consummate dignity of num- 
bers and expression ; and in the instance in question 
I think his skill in this respect is remarkably dis- 
played. The line is perfectly majestic in its march. 
As to the wind, it is such as only the word ingeminant 



296 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1784 

could describe ; and the words densissimus imber give 
one an idea of a shower indeed, but of such a shower 
as is not very common, and such a one as only Virgil 
could have done justice to by a single epithet. Far 
therefore from agreeing with the Doctor in his stric- 
ture, I do not think the &neid contains a nobler line, 
or a description more magnificently finished. 

We are glad that Dr. Conyers has singled you out 
upon this occasion. Your performance we doubt not 
will justify his choice : fear not, you have a heart 
that can feel upon charitable occasions, and that there- 
fore will not fail you upon this. The burning words 
come always fast enough, when the sensibility is such 
as yours. 

Thanks for the fish, with its companion a lobster, 
which we mean to eat to-morrow. We want four 
Chinese tooth-brushes, they cost a shilling each, the 
harder the better. Thanks also for the hat, which is 
greatly admired, and for The Minstrel, which I dare 
say I shall admire no less. Beattie is become my 
favourite author of all the moderns ; he is so amiable 
I long to know him. Yours, my dear friend, 

W. C. 

cxx 

To the Rev. John Newton. 

April 26, 1784. 

MY DEAR FRIEND, 

We are truly sorry that you have been indisposed. It 



1784] TO THE REV. JOHN NEWTON 297 

is well however to have passed through such a season 
and to have fared no worse. A cold and a sore-throat 
are troublesome things, but in general an ague is more 
troublesome ; and in this part of the world few have 
escaped one. I have lately been an invalid myself, 
and have just recovered from a rheumatic pain in my 
back, the most excruciating of the sort I ever felt. 
There was talk of bleeding and blistering, but I 
escaped with only an embrocation and a box of pills. 
Mr. Grindon attended me, who though he fidgets 
about the world as usual, is, I think, a dying man, 
having had some time since a stroke of apoplexy, and 
lately a paralytic one. His loss will be felt in this 
country. Though I do not think him absolutely an 
^Esculapius, I believe him to be as skilful as most of 
his fraternity in the neighbourhood, besides which, he 
has the merit of being extremely cautious, a very 
necessary quality in a practitioner upon the constitu- 
tions of others. 

We are glad that your book runs. It will not 
indeed satisfy those whom nothing could satisfy but 
your accession to their party ; but the liberal will say 
you do well, and it is in the opinion of such men only 
that you can feel yourself interested. 

I have lately been employed in reading Beattie and 
Blair's Lectures. The latter I have not yet finished, 
I find the former the most agreeable of the two, indeed 
the most entertaining writer upon dry subjects that I 
ever met with. His imagination is highly poetical, his 
language easy and elegant, and his manner so familiar 



298 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1784 

that we seem to be conversing with an old friend, upon 
terms of the most sociable intercourse, while we read 
him. Blair is on the contrary rather stiff, not that 
his style is pedantic, but his air is formal. He is a 
sensible man, and understands his subjects, but too 
conscious that he is addressing the public, and too 
solicitous about his success, to indulge himself for a 
moment in that play of fancy which makes the other 
so agreeable. In Blair we find a scholar, in Beattie 
both a scholar and an amiable man ; indeed so amiable, 
that I have wished for his acquaintance ever since I 
read his book. Having never in my life perused a 
page of Aristotle, I am glad to have had an opportu- 
nity of learning more than (I suppose) he would have 
taught me, from the writings of two modern critics. I 
felt myself too a little disposed to compliment my own 
acumen upon the occasion. For though the art of 
writing and composing was never much my study, I 
did not find that they had any great news to tell me. 
They have assisted me in putting my own observations 
into some method, but have not suggested many, of 
which I was not by some means or other previously 
apprized. In fact, critics did not originally beget 
authors; but authors made critics. Common sense dic- 
tated to writers the necessity of method, connexion, 
and thoughts congruous to the nature of their subject ; 
genius prompted them with embellishments, and then 
came the critics. Observing the good effects of an 
attention to these items, they enacted laws for the 
observance of them in time to come, and having 



1784] TO THE REV. JOHN NEWTON 299 

drawn their rules for good writing from what was 
actually well written, boasted themselves the inventors 
of an art which yet the authors of the day had already 
exemplified. They are however useful in their way, 
giving us at one view a map of the boundaries which 
propriety sets to fancy; and serving as judges, to 
whom the public may at once appeal, when pestered 
with the vagaries of those who have had the hardiness 
to transgress them. 

The candidates for this county have set an example 
of economy, which other candidates would do well to 
follow, having come to an agreement on both sides to 
defray the expenses of their voters, but to open no 
houses for the entertainment of the rabble ; a reform 
however which the rabble did not at all approve of, 
and testified their dislike of it by a riot. A stage was 
built, from which the orators had designed to harangue 
the electors. This became the first victim of their 
fury. Having very little curiosity to hear what 
gentlemen could say who would give them nothing 
better than words, they broke it in pieces, and threw 
the fragments upon the hustings. The sheriff, the 
members, the lawyers, the voters, were instantly put 
to flight. They rallied, but were again routed by a 
second assault, like the former. They then proceeded 
to break the windows of the inn to which they had 
fled ; and a fear prevailing that at night they would 
fire the town, a proposal was made by the freeholders 
to face about and endeavour to secure them. At 
that instant a rioter, dressed in a merry andrew's 



300 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1784 

jacket, stepped forward, and challenged the best man 
among them. Olney sent the hero to the field, who 
made him repent of his presumption. Mr. Ashburner 
was he. Seizing him by the throat, he shook him, 
he threw him to the earth, he made the hollowness of 
his skull resound by the application of his fists, and 
dragged him into custody without the least damage to 
his person. Animated by this example, the other 
freeholders followed it : and in five minutes twenty- 
eight out of thirty ragamuffins were safely lodged in 
gaol. 

Adieu, my dear friend; writing makes my back 
ache, and my paper is full. We love you, and are 

yours, 

W. AND M. 

CXXI 

To the Rev. William Unwin. 

MY DEAR FRIEND, 

It is hard upon us striplings who have uncles still 
living (N.B. I myself have an uncle still alive,) that 
those venerable gentlemen should stand in our way, 
even when the ladies are in question ; that I, for 
instance, should find in one page of your letter a 
hope that Miss Shuttleworth would be of your party, 
and be told in the next that she is engaged to your 
uncle. Well, we may perhaps never be uncles ; but 
we may reasonably hope that the time is coming, 
when others, as young as we are now, shall envy us 



1784] TO THE REV. WILLIAM UNWIN 301 

the privileges of old age, and see us engross that share 
in the attention of the ladies to which their youth 
must aspire in vain. Make our compliments if you 
please to your sister Elizabeth, and tell her that we 
are both mortified at having missed the pleasure of 
seeing her. 

Balloons are so much the mode, that even in this 
country we have attempted a balloon. You may 
possibly remember that at a place called Weston, little 
more than a mile from Olney, their lives a family 
whose name is Throckmorton. The present possessor 
of the estate is a young man whom I remember a boy. 
He has a wife, who is young, genteel, and handsome. 
They are Papists, but much more amiable than many 
Protestants. We never had any intercourse with the 
family, though ever since we lived here we have en- 
joyed the range of their pleasure grounds, having been 
favoured with a key, which admits us into all. When 
this man succeeded to the estate, on the death of his 
elder brother, and came to settle at Weston, I sent 
him a complimentary card, requesting the continuance 
of that privilege, having till then enjoyed it by the 
favour of his mother, who on that occasion went to 
finish her days at Bath. You may conclude that he 
granted it, and for about two years nothing more 
passed between us. A fortnight ago, I received an 
invitation in the civilest terms, in which he told me 
that the next day he should attempt to fill a balloon, 
and if it would be any pleasure to me to be present, 
should be happy to see me. Your mother and I 



302 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1784 

went. The whole country were there, but the balloon 
could not be filled. The endeavour was, I believe, 
very philosophically made, but such a process depends 
for its success upon such niceties as make it very 
precarious. Our reception was however flattering to 
a great degree, insomuch that more notice seemed to 
be taken of us, than we could possibly have expected ; 
indeed rather more than of any of his other guests. 
They even seemed anxious to recommend themselves 
to our regards. We drank chocolate, and were asked 
to dine, but were engaged. A day or two afterwards, 
Mrs. Unwin and I walked that way, and were over- 
taken in a shower. I found a tree that I thought 
would shelter us both, a large elm, in a grove that 
fronts the mansion. Mrs. T. observed us, and running 
towards us in the rain insisted on our walking in. 
He was gone out. We sat chatting with her till the 
weather cleared up, and then at her instance took a 
walk with her in the garden. The garden is almost 
their only walk, and is certainly their only retreat 
in which they are not liable to interruption. She 
offered us a key of it in a manner that made it im- 
possible not to accept it, and said she would send us 
one. A few days afterwards, in the cool of the even- 
ing, we walked that way again. We saw them going 
toward the house, and exchanged bows and curtsies 
at a little distance, but did not join them. In a few 
minutes, when we had passed the house, and had 
almost reached the gate that opens out of the park 
into the adjoining field, I heard the iron gate belong- 



1784] TO THE REV. WILLIAM UN WIN 303 

ing to the court-yard ring, and saw Mr. T. advancing 
hastily toward us ; we made equal haste to meet him, 
he presented to us the key, which I told him I 
esteemed a singular favour, and after a few such 
speeches as are made on such occasions, we parted. 
This happened about a week ago. I concluded no- 
thing less, than that all this civility and attention 
was designed, on their part, as a prelude to a nearer 
acquaintance; but here at present the matter rests. 
I should like exceedingly to be on an easy footing 
there, to give a morning call, and now and then to 
receive one, but nothing more. For though he is one 
of the most agreeable men I ever saw, I could not 
wish to visit him in any other way, neither our house, 
furniture, servants, or income, being such as qualify 
us to make entertainments ; neither would I on any 
account be introduced to the neighbouring gentry, 
which must be the consequence of our dining there, 
there not being a man in the country, except himself, 
with whom I could endure to associate. They are 
squires, merely such, purse-proud and sportsmen. But 
Mr. T. is altogether a man of fashion, and respect- 
able on every account. 

I have told you a long story. Farewell. We 
number the days as they pass, and are glad that we 
shall see you and your sister soon. Yours, &c. 

W. C. 



304 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1784 

CXXII 

To the Rev. William Unwin. 

July 3, 1784. 

MY DEAR WILLIAM, 

I was sorry that I could only take a flying leave of 
you. When the coach stopped at the door, I thought 
you had been in your chamber ; my dishabille would 
not otherwise have prevented my running down for the 
sake of a more suitable parting. 

We rejoice that you had a safe journey, and though 
we should have rejoiced still more had you had no 
occasion for a physician, we are glad that, having had 
need of one, you had the good fortune to find him. 
Let us hear soon that his advice has proved effectual, 
and that you are delivered from all ill symptoms. 

Thanks for the care you have taken to furnish me 
with a dictionary. It is rather strange that at my 
time of life, and after a youth spent in classical pur- 
suits, I should want one ; and stranger still that, being 
possessed at present of only one Latin author in the 
world, I should think it worth while to purchase one. 
I say that it is strange, and indeed I think it so my- 
self. But I have a thought that when my present 
labours of the pen are ended, I may go to school again, 
and refresh my spirits by a little intercourse with the 
Mantuan and the Sabine bard ; and perhaps by a re- 
perusal of some others, whose works we generally lay 
by at that period of life when we are best qualified to 



1784] TO THE REV. WILLIAM UNWIN 305 

read them, when, the judgement and the taste being 
formed, their beauties are least likely to be over- 
looked. 

This change of wind and weather comforts me, and 
I should have enjoyed the first fine morning I have 
seen this month with a peculiar relish, if our new tax- 
maker had not put me out of temper. I am angry 
with him, not only for the matter, but for the manner 
of his proposal. When he lays his impost upon horses, 
he is even jocular, and laughs ; though considering that 
wheels, and miles, and grooms, were taxed before, a 
graver countenance upon the occasion would have 
been more decent. But he provokes me still more by 
reasoning as he does on the justification of the tax 
upon candles. Some families, he says, will suffer 
little by it ; Why ? Because they are so poor, that 
they cannot afford themselves more than ten pounds 
in the year. Excellent ! They can use but few, there- 
fore they will pay but little, and consequently will be 
but little burthened, an argument which for its cruelty 
and effrontery seems worthy of a hero ; but he does 
not avail himself of the whole force of it, nor with all 
his wisdom had sagacity enough to see that it contains, 
when pushed to its utmost extent, a free discharge and 
acquittal of the poor from the payment of any tax at 
all ; a commodity, being once made too expensive for 
their pockets, will cost them nothing, for they will 
not buy it. Rejoice, therefore, O ye pennyless ! the 
minister will indeed send you to bed in the dark, but 
your^' remaining halfpenny will be safe; instead of 

VOL. i x 



306 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1784 

being spent in the useless luxury of candlelight, it will 
buy you a roll for breakfast, which you will eat no 
doubt with gratitude to the man who so kindly lessens 
the number of your disbursements, and while he 
seems to threaten your money, saves it. I wish he 
would remember, that the halfpenny, which govern- 
ment imposes, the shopkeeper will swell to two-pence. 
I wish he would visit the miserable huts of our lace- 
makers at Olney, and see them working in the winter 
months, by the light of a farthing candle, from four in 
the afternoon till midnight. I wish he had laid his tax 
upon the ten thousand lamps that illuminate the Pan- 
theon, upon the flambeaux that wait upon ten thousand 
chariots and sedans in an evening, and upon the wax 
candles that give light to ten thousand card-tables. I 
wish, in short, that he would consider the pockets of 
the poor as sacred, and that to tax a people already so 
necessitous, is but to discourage the little industry that 
is left among us, by driving the laborious to despair. 

A neighbour of mine, in Silver End, keeps an ass ; 
the ass lives on the other side of the garden wall, and 
I am writing in the green-house : it happens that he is 
this morning most musically disposed, either cheered 
by the fine weather, or by some new tune which he has 
just acquired, or by finding his voice more harmonious 
than usual. It would be cruel to mortify so fine a 
singer, therefore I do not tell him that he interrupts 
and hinders me ; but I venture to tell you so, and to 
plead his performance in excuse of my abrupt con- 
clusion. 



1784] TO THE REV. WILLIAM UN WIN 307 

I send you the goldfinches, with which you will do 
as you see good. We have an affectionate remembrance 
of your late visit, and of all our friends at Stock. 
Believe me ever yours, r /- 



CXXIII 

To the Rev. John Neivton. 

August 16, 1784. 

MY DEAR FRIEND, 

Had you not expressed a desire to hear from me 
before you take leave of Lymington, I certainly should 
not have answered you so soon. Knowing the place, 
and the amusements it affords, I should have had more 
modesty than to suppose myself capable of adding 
any thing to your present entertainments worthy to 
rank with them. I am not however totally destitute 
of such pleasures as an inland country may pretend 
to. If my windows do not command a view of the 
ocean, at least they look out upon a profusion of 
mignonette, which, if it be not so grand an object, is 
however quite as fragrant : and if I have not a hermit 
in a grotto, I have nevertheless myself in a green- 
house, a less venerable figure perhaps, but not at 
all less animated than he : nor are we in this nook 
altogether unfurnished with such means of philo- 
sophical experiment and speculation as at present the 
world rings with. On Thursday morning last, we 
sent up a balloon from Emberton meadow. Thrice 



308 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1784 

it rose, and as oft descended ; and in the evening it 
performed another flight at Newport, where it went 
up, and came down no more. Like the arrow dis- 
charged at the pigeon in the Trojan games, it kindled 
in the air, and was consumed in a moment. I have 
not heard what interpretation the soothsayers have 
given to the omen, but shall wonder a little if the 
Newton shepherd prognosticate any thing less from 
it than the most bloody war that was ever waged in 
Europe. 

I am reading Cook's last voyage, and am much 
pleased and amused with it. It seems that in some 
of the Friendly isles, they excel so much in dancing, 
and perform that operation with such exquisite delicacy 
and grace, that they are not surpassed even upon our 
European stages. O ! that Vestris had been in the 
ship, that he might have seen himself outdone by a 
savage. The paper indeed tells us that the queen 
of France has clapped this king of capers up in prison, 
for declining to dance before her, on a pretence of 
sickness, when in fact he was in perfect health. If 
this be true, perhaps he may by this time be prepared 
to second such a wish as mine, and to think that 
the durance he suffers would be well exchanged for a 
dance at Anamooka. I should however as little have 
expected to hear that these islanders had such con- 
summate skill in an art, that requires so much taste 
in the conduct of the person, as that they were good 
mathematicians and astronomers. Defective as they 
are in every branch of knowledge, and in every other 



1784] TO THE REV. JOHN NEWTON 309 

species of refinement, it seems wonderful that they 
should arrive at such perfection in the dance, which 
some of our English gentlemen, with all the assistance 
of French instruction, find it impossible to learn. We 
must conclude therefore that particular nations have a 
genius for particular feats ; and that our neighbours in 
France, and our friends in the South Sea, have minds 
very nearly akin, though they inhabit countries so 
very remote from each other. 

Mrs. Unwin remembers to have been in company 
with Mr. Gilpin at her brother's. She thought him 
very sensible and polite, and consequently very 
agreeable. 

We are truly glad that Mrs. Newton and yourself 
are so well, and that there is reason to hope that Eliza 
is better. You will learn from this letter that we are 
so, and that for my own part I am not quite so low in 
spirits as at some times. Learn too, what you knew 
before, that we love you all, and that I am your 

affectionate friend, 

W. C. 



CXXIV 

To the Rev. John Newton. 

Sept. 18, 1784. 

MY DEAR FRIEND, 

Following your good example, I lay before me a 
sheet of my largest paper. It was this moment fair 
and unblemished, but I have begun to blot it, and 



310 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1784 

having begun, am not likely to cease till I have spoiled 
it. I have sent you many a sheet that in my judge- 
ment of it has been very unworthy of your acceptance, 
but my conscience was in some measure satisfied by 
reflecting, that if it were good for nothing, at the same 
time it cost you nothing, except the trouble of reading 
it. But the case is altered now. You must pay a 
solid price for frothy matter, and though I do not 
absolutely pick your pocket, yet you lose your money, 
and, as the saying is, are never the wiser; a saying 
literally fulfilled to the reader of my epistles. 

My greenhouse is never so pleasant as when we 
are just upon the point of being turned out of it. 
The gentleness of the autumnal suns, and the calm- 
ness of this latter season, make it a much more agree- 
able retreat than we ever find it in summer; when, 
the winds being generally brisk, we cannot cool it by 
admitting a sufficient quantity of air, without being 
at the same time incommoded by it. But now I sit 
with all the windows and the door wide open, and am 
regaled with the scent of every flower in a garden as 
full of flowers as I have known how to make it. We 
keep no bees, but if I lived in a hive I should hardly 
hear more of their music. All the bees in the neigh- 
bourhood resort to a bed of mignonette, opposite to 
the window, and pay me for the honey they get out 
of it by a hum, which, though rather monotonous, is 
as agreeable to my ear as the whistling of my linnets. 
All the sounds that nature utters are delightful, at 
least in this country. I should not perhaps find the 



1784] TO THE REV. JOHN NEWTON 311 

roaring of lions in Africa, or of bears in Russia, very 
pleasing; but I know no beast in England whose 
voice I do not account musical, save and except 
always the braying of an ass. The notes of all our 
birds and fowls please me, without one exception. I 
should not indeed think of keeping a goose in a cage, 
that I might hang him up in the parlour for the sake 
of his melody, but a goose upon a common, or in a 
farm-yard, is no bad performer ; and as to insects, if 
the black beetles, and beetles indeed of all hues, will 
keep out of my way, I have no objection to any of the 
rest ; on the contrary, in whatever key they sing, from 
the gnat's fine treble, to the bass of the humble bee, 
I admire them all. Seriously however it strikes me 
as a very observable instance of providential kindness 
to man, that such an exact accord has been contrived 
between his ear, and the sounds with which, at least 
in a rural situation, it is almost every moment visited. 
All the world is sensible of the uncomfortable effect 
that certain sounds have upon the nerves, and con- 
sequently upon the spirits : and if a sinful world had 
been filled with such as would have curdled the blood, 
and have made the sense of hearing a perpetual incon- 
venience, I do not know that we should have had 
a right to complain. But now the fields, the woods, 
the gardens, have each their concert, and the ear of 
man is for ever regaled by creatures who seem only 
to please themselves. Even the ears that are deaf to 
the Gospel, are continually entertained, though without 
knowing it, by sounds for which they are solely in- 



312 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1784 

debted to its author. There is somewhere in infinite 
space a world that does not roll within the precincts 
of mercy, and as it is reasonable, and even scriptural, 
to suppose that there is music in Heaven, in those 
dismal regions perhaps the reverse of it is found ; 
tones so dismal, as to make woe itself more insupport- 
able, and to acuminate even despair. But my paper 
admonishes me in good time to draw the reins, and 
to check the descent of my fancy into deeps, with 
which she is but too familiar. 

Our best love attends you both, with yours, 

Sum ut semper, tui studiosissimus, 

w. c. 



cxxv 

To the Rev. William Unwin. 

Oct. 10, 1784. 

MY DEAR WILLIAM, 

I send you four quires of verse, which having sent, I 
shall dismiss from my thoughts, and think no more of, 
till I see them in print I have not after all found 
time or industry enough to give the last hand to the 
points. I believe, however, they are not very erro- 
neous, though in so long a work, and in a work that 
requires nicety in this particular, some inaccuracies 
will escape. Where you find any, you will oblige me 
by correcting them. 

In some passages, especially in the second book, 
you will observe me very satirical. Writing on such 



1784] TO THE REV. WILLIAM UNWIN 313 

subjects I could not be otherwise. I can write nothing 
without aiming at least at usefulness : it were beneath 
my years to do it, and still more dishonourable to my 
religion. I know that a reformation of such abuses as 
I have censured is not to be expected from the efforts 
of a poet ; but to contemplate the world, its follies, its 
vices, its indifference to duty, and its strenuous attach- 
ment to what is evil, and not to reprehend, were to 
approve it. From this charge at least I shall be clear, 
for I have neither tacitly nor expressly flattered either 
its characters or its customs. I have paid one, and 
only one compliment, which was so justly due, that I 
did not know how to withhold it, especially having so 
fair an occasion ; I forget myself, there is another in the 
first book to Mr. Throckmorton, but the compliment 
I mean is to Mr. Smith. It is however so managed, 
that nobody but himself can make the application, and 
you, to whom I disclose a secret ; a delicacy on my 
part, which so much delicacy on his obliged me to 
the observance of. 

What there is of a religious cast in the volume I 
have thrown towards the end of it, for two reasons ; 
first, that I might not revolt the reader at his entrance, 
and secondly, that my best impressions might be 
made last.. Were I to write as many volumes as 
Lope de Vega, or Voltaire, not one of them would be 
without this tincture. If the world like it not, so 
much the worse for them. I make all the concessions 
I can, that I may please them, but I will not please 
them at the expense of conscience. 



314 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1784 

My descriptions are all from nature : not one of 
them second-handed. My delineations of the heart are 
from my own experience : not one of them borrowed 
from books, or in the least degree conjectural. In 
my numbers, which I have varied as much as I could, 
(for blank verse without variety of numbers is no 
better than bladder and string,) I have imitated 
nobody, though sometimes perhaps there may be an 
apparent resemblance ; because at the same time that 
I would not imitate, I have not affectedly differed. 

If the work cannot boast a regular plan, (in which 
respect however I do not think it altogether inde- 
fensible,) it may yet boast, that the reflections are 
naturally suggested always by the preceding passage, 
and that except the fifth book, which is rather of a 
political aspect, the whole has one tendency ; to dis- 
countenance the modern enthusiasm after a London 
life, and to recommend rural ease and leisure, as 
friendly to the cause of piety and virtue. 

If it pleases you I shall be happy, and collect from 
your pleasure in it an omen of its general acceptance. 
Yours, my dear friend, _ 

VV i \^f 



CXXVI 
To the Rev. William Unwin. 

Oct. 20, 1784. 

MY DEAR WILLIAM, 

Your letter has relieved me from some anxiety, and 



1784] TO THE REV. WILLIAM UN WIN 315 

given me a good deal of positive pleasure. I have 
faith in your judgement, and an implicit confidence in 
the sincerity of your approbation. The writing of so 
long a poem is a serious business; and the author 
must know little of his own heart, who does not in 
some degree suspect himself of partiality to his own 
production ; and who is he that would not be mortified 
by the discovery, that he had written five thousand 
lines in vain ? The poem however which you have in 
hand will not of itself make a volume so large as the 
last, or as a bookseller would wish. I say this, because 
when I had sent Johnson five thousand verses, he 
applied for a thousand more. Two years since, I 
began a piece which grew to the length of two 
hundred, and there stopped. I have lately resumed 
it, and (I believe) shall finish it. But the subject is 
fruitful, and will not be comprised in a smaller com- 
pass than seven or eight hundred verses. It turns on 
the question, whether an education at school or at 
home be preferable, and I shall give the preference to 
the latter. I mean that it shall pursue the track of 
the former, that is to say, that it shall visit Stock in 
its way to publication. My design also is to inscribe 
it to you. But you must see it first; and if, after 
having seen it, you should have any objection, though 
it should be no bigger than the tittle of an t, I will 
deny myself that pleasure, and find no fault with your 
refusal. I have not been without thoughts of adding 
John Gilpin at the tail of all. He has made a good 
deal of noise in the world, and perhaps it may not be 



316 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1784 

amiss to show, that though I write generally with a 
serious intention, I know how to be occasionally merry. 
The Critical Reviewers charged me with an attempt 
at humour. John having been more celebrated upon 
the score of humour than most pieces that have 
appeared in modern days, may serve to exonerate me 
from the imputation : but in this article I am entirely 
under your judgement, and mean to be set down by 
it. All these together will make an octavo like the 
last. I should have told you, that the piece which 
now employs me, is in rhyme. I do not intend to 
write any more blank. It is more difficult than 
rhyme, and not so amusing in the composition. If, 
when you make the offer of my book to Johnson, he 
should stroke his chin, and look up to the ceiling and 
cry " Humph ! " anticipate him (I beseech you) at 
once, by saying " that you know I should be sorry 
that he should undertake for me to his own dis- 
advantage, or that my volume should be in any degree 
pressed upon him. I make him the offer merely 
because I think he would have reason to complain of 
me, if I did not." But that punctilio once satisfied, it 
is a matter of indifference to me what publisher sends 
me forth. If Longman should have difficulties, which 
is the more probable, as I understand from you that he 
does not in these cases see with his own eyes, but will 
consult a brother poet, take no pains to conquer them. 
The idea of being hawked about, and especially of 
your being the hawker, is insupportable. Nichols (I 
have heard) is the most learned printer of the present 



1784] TO THE REV. WILLIAM UN WIN 317 

day. He may be a man of taste as well as of learning ; 
and I suppose that you would not want a gentleman 
usher to introduce you. He prints the Gentleman's 
Magazine, and may serve us, if the others should 
decline ; if not, give yourself no farther trouble about 
the matter. I may possibly envy authors, who can 
afford to publish at their own expense, and in that 
case should write no more. But the mortification 
would not break my heart. . . . 

We have to trouble you yet once again in the 
marketing way. I want a yard of green satin, to 
front a winter under waistcoat, and your mother a 
pound of prepared hartshorn. Being tolerably honest 
folks, it is probable that we shall some time or 
other pay you all our debts. These and the cream- 
pot may all come together by the waggon. 

I can easily see that you may have very reasonable 
objections to my dedicatory proposal. You are a 
clergyman, and I have banged your order. You are 
a child of Alma Mater, and I have banged her too. 
Lay yourself therefore under no constraints that I do 
not lay you under, but consider yourself as perfectly 
free. 

With our best love to you all, I bid you heartily 
farewell. I am tired of this endless scribblement. 
Adieu ! Yours, 



318 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1784 

CXXVII 

To the Rev. John Newton. 

Oct. 30, 1784. 

MY DEAR FRIEND, 

I accede most readily to the justness of your remark 
on the subject of the truly Roman heroism of the 
Sandwich islanders. Proofs of such prowess I believe 
are seldom exhibited by a people who have attained to 
a high degree of civilization. Refinement and profli- 
gacy of principle are too nearly allied, to admit of any 
thing so noble ; and I question whether any instances 
of faithful friendship, like that which so much affected 
you in the behaviour of the poor savage, were produced 
even by the Romans themselves, in the latter days of 
the empire. They had been a nation whose virtues it 
is impossible not to wonder at. But Greece, which 
was to them, what France is to us, a Pandora's box of 
mischief, reduced them to her own standard, and 
they naturally soon sunk still lower. Religion in this 
case seems pretty much out of the question. To the 
production of such heroism, undebauched nature her- 
self is equal. When Italy was a land of heroes, she 
knew no more of the true God than her cicisbeos and 
her fiddlers know now ; and indeed it seems a matter 
of indifference, whether a man be born under a truth 
which does not influence him, or under the actual in- 
fluence of a lie : or if there be any difference between 
the two cases, it seems to be rather in favour of the 



1784] TO THE REV. JOHN NEWTON 319 

latter ; for a false persuasion, (such as the Mahometan 
for instance,) may animate the courage, and furnish 
motives for the contempt of death, while despisers of 
the true religion are punished for their folly by being 
abandoned to the last degrees of depravity. Accord- 
ingly we see a Sandwich islander sacrificing himself 
to his dead friend, and our Christian seamen and 
mariners, instead of being impressed by a sense of his 
generosity, butchering him with a persevering cruelty 
that will disgrace them for ever ; for he was a defence- 
less, unresisting enemy, who meant nothing more than 
to gratify his love for the deceased. To slay him in 
such circumstances was to murder him, and with every 
aggravation of the crime that can be imagined. 

I am now reading a book which you have never 
read, and will probably never read Knox's Essays. 
Perhaps I should premise, that I am driven to such 
reading by the want of books that would please me 
better, neither having any, nor the means of procuring 
any. I am not sorry, however, that I have met with 
him ; though when I have allowed him the praise of 
being a sensible man, and in his way a good one, I 
have allowed him all that I can afford. Neither his 
style pleases me, which is sometimes insufferably dry 
and hard, and sometimes ornamented even to an 
Harveian tawdriness ; nor his manner, which is never 
lively without being the worse for it : so unhappy is 
he in his attempts at character and narration. But 
writing chiefly on the manners, vices, and follies of the 
modern day, to me he is at least so far useful, as that 



320 LETTERS FROM OLNEV [1784 

he gives me information upon points concerning which 
I neither can nor would be informed except by hear- 
say. Of such information, however, I have need, 
being a writer upon those subjects myself, and a 
satirical writer too. It is fit, therefore, in order that 
I may find fault in the right place, that I should know 
where fault may properly be found. 

I am again at Johnson's in the shape of a poem in 
blank verse, consisting of six books, and called The 
Task. I began it about this time twelvemonth, and 
writing sometimes an hour in a day, sometimes half a 
one, and sometimes two hours, have lately finished it. 
I mentioned it not sooner, because almost to the last 
I was doubtful whether I should ever bring it to a 
conclusion, working often in such distress of mind, as, 
while it spurred me to the work, at the same time 
threatened to disqualify me for it. My bookseller I 
suppose will be as tardy as before. I do not expect to 
be born into the world till the month of March, when 
I and the crocuses shall peep together. You may 
assure yourself that I shall take my first opportunity 
to wait on you. I mean likewise to gratify myself by 
obtruding my Muse upon Mr. Bacon. 

Adieu, my dear friend ! we are well, and love you. 
Yours, and Mrs. Newton's, p 



1784] TO JOSEPH HILL, ESQ. 321 

CXXVIII 

An Epistle to Joseph Hill, Esq. 

Dear Joseph, five and twenty years ago 
Alas ! how time escapes 'tis even so ! 
With frequent intercourse and always sweet 
And always friendly we were wont to cheat 
A tedious hour, and now we never meet. 
As some grave gentleman in Terence says, 
('Twas therefore much the same in ancient days,) 
Good lack, we know not what to-morrow brings, 
Strange fluctuation of all human things ! 
True. Changes will befall, and friends may part, 
But distance only cannot change the heart : 
And were I call'd to prove the assertion true, 
One proof should serve, a reference to you. 

Whence comes it then, that in the wane of life, 
Though nothing have occurr'd to kindle strife, 
We find the friends we fancied we had won, 
Though numerous once, reduced to few or none ? 
Can gold grow worthless that has stood the touch ? 
No. Gold they seemed, but they were never such. 
Horatio's servant once, with bow and cringe 
Swinging the parlour door upon its hinge, 
Dreading a negative, and overawed 
Lest he should trespass, begg'd to go abroad. 
Go, fellow ! whither ? turning short about 
Nay. Stay at home ; you're always going out. 
Tis but a step, sir, just at the street's end. 

VOL. I Y 



322 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1784 

For what ? An please you, sir, to see a friend. 

A friend ? Horatio cried, and seem'd to start, 

Yea marry shalt thou, and with all my heart 

And fetch my cloak, for though the night be raw 

I'll see him too the first I ever saw. 

I knew the man, and knew his nature mild, 

And was his plaything often when a child ; 

But somewhat at that moment pinch'd him close, 

Else he was seldom bitter or morose : 

Perhaps his confidence just then betray'd, 

His grief might prompt him with the speech he made ; 

Perhaps 'twas mere good humour gave it birth, 

The harmless play of pleasantry and mirth. 

Howe'er it was, his language in my mind 

Bespoke at least a man that knew mankind. 

But not to moralize too much, and strain 

To prove an evil of which all complain, 

(I hate long arguments, verbosely spun,) 

One story more, dear Hill, and I have done. 

Once on a time, an Emperor, a wise man, 

No matter where, in China or Japan, 

Decreed that whosoever should offend 

Against the well-known duties of a friend, 

Convicted once, should ever after wear 

But half a coat, and show his bosom bare ; 

The punishment importing this, no doubt, 

That all was naught within, and all found out. 

Oh happy Britain ! we have not to fear 

Such hard and arbitrary measure here ; 

Else could a law like that which I relate, 



1784] TO JOSEPH HILL, ESQ. 323 

Once have the sanction of our triple state, 
Some few that I have known in days of old l 
Would run most dreadful risk of catching cold. 
While you, my friend, whatever wind should blow, 
Might traverse England safely to and fro, 
An honest man, close-button'd to the chin, 
Broad-cloth without, and a warm heart within. 



CXXIX 

To Joseph Hill, Esq. 

Nov. 1784. 

MY DEAR FRIEND, 

To condole with you on the death of a mother aged 
eighty-seven would be absurd ; rather, therefore, as is 
reasonable, I congratulate you on the almost singular 
felicity of having enjoyed the company of so amiable, 
and so near a relation so long. Your lot and mine in 
this respect have been very different, as indeed in 
almost every other. Your mother lived to see you 
rise, at least to see you comfortably established in the 
world : mine, dying when I was six years old, did not 
live to see me sink in it. You may remember with 
pleasure, while you live, a blessing vouchsafed to you 
so long ; and I, while I live, must regret a comfort of 
which I was deprived so early. I can truly say, that 
not a week passes, (perhaps I might with equal veracity 

1 The reference is to his old friends Thurlow and Colman. See 
p. 254 note. 



324 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1784 

say a day,) in which I do not think of her. Such 
was the impression her tenderness made upon me, 
though the opportunity she had for showing it was so 
short But the ways of God are equal ; and when I 
reflect on the pangs she would have suffered, had she 
been a witness of all mine, I see more cause to rejoice 
than to mourn, that she was hidden in the grave so 
sopn. 

We have, as you say, lost a lively and sensible 
neighbour in Lady Austen, but we have been long 
accustomed to a state of retirement within one degree 
of solitude, and. being naturally lovers of still life, can 
relapse into our former duality without being unhappy 
at the change. To me indeed a third is not necessary, 
while I can have the companion I have had these 
twenty years. 

I am gone to the press again ; a volume of mine 
will greet your hands some time either in the course 
of the winter, or early in the spring. You will find it 
perhaps on the whole more entertaining than the 
former, as it treats a greater variety of subjects, and 
those, at least the most, of a sublunary kind. It will 
consist of a poem, in six books, called The Task. To 
which will be added another, which I finished yester- 
day, called, I believe, Tirocinium, on the subject of 
education. 

You perceive that I have taken your advice, and 
given the pen no rest. 



1784] TO THE REV. JOHN NEWTON 325 

cxxx 

To the Rev. John Newton. 

Nov. 27, 1784. 

MY DEAR FRIEND, 

All the interest that you take in my new publication, 
and all the pleas that you urge in behalf of your right 
to my confidence, the moment I had read your letter, 
struck me as so many proofs of your regard; of a 
friendship, in which distance and time make no abate- 
ment. But it is difficult to adjust opposite claims to 
the satisfaction of all parties. I have done my best, 
and must leave it to your candour to put a just inter- 
pretation upon all that has passed, and to give me 
credit for it, as a certain truth, that whatever seeming 
defects, in point of attention and attachment to you, 
my conduct on this occasion may have appeared to 
have been chargeable with, I am in reality as clear of 
all real ones as you would wish to find me. 

I send you enclosed, in the first place, a copy of the 
advertisement to the reader, which accounts for my 
title, not otherwise easily accounted for; secondly, 
what is called an argument, or a summary of the con- 
tents of each book, more circumstantial and diffuse by 
far than that which I have sent to the press. It will 
give you a pretty accurate acquaintance with my 
matter, though the tenons and mortises, by which the 
several passages are connected, and let into each other, 
cannot be explained in a syllabus; and lastly, an 



326 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1784 

extract, as you desired. The subject of it I am sure 
will please you ; and as I have admitted into my de- 
scription no images but what are scriptural, and have 
aimed as exactly as I could at the plain and simple 
sublimity of the scripture language, I have hopes 
the manner of it may please you too. As far as the 
numbers and diction are concerned, it may serve pretty 
well for a sample of the whole. But the subjects 
being so various, no single passage can in all respects 
be a specimen of the book at large. 

My principal purpose is to allure the reader, by 
character, by scenery, by imagery, and such poetical 
embellishments, to the reading of what may profit him. 
Subordinately to this, to combat that predilection in 
favour of a metropolis, that beggars and exhausts the 
country, by evacuating it of all its principal inhabitants : 
and collaterally, and as far as is consistent with this 
double intention, to have a stroke at vice, vanity, and 
folly, wherever I find them. I have not spared the 
Universities. A letter which appeared in the General 
Evening Post of Saturday, said to have been received 
by a general officer, and by him sent to the press, as 
worthy of public notice, and which has all the appear- 
ance of authenticity, would alone justify the severest 
censure of those bodies, if any such justification were 
wanted. By way of supplement to what I have written 
on this subject, I have added a poem, called Tiroci- 
nium, which is in rhyme. It treats of the scandalous 
relaxation of discipline, that obtains in almost all 
schools universally, but especially in the largest, which 



1784] TO THE REV. JOHN NEWTON 327 

are so negligent in the article of morals, that boys are 
debauched in general the moment they are capable 
of being so. It recommends the office of tutor to 
the father, where there is no real impediment; the 
expedient of a domestic tutor, where there is ; and 
the disposal of boys into the hands of a respectable 
country clergyman, who limits his attention to two, in 
all cases where they cannot be conveniently educated 
at home. Mr. Unwin happily affording me an instance 
in point, the poem is inscribed to him. You will now 
I hope command your hunger to be patient, and be 
satisfied with the luncheon that I send, till dinner 
comes. That piecemeal perusal of the work, sheet by 
sheet, would be so disadvantageous to the work itself, 
and therefore so uncomfortable to me, that, I dare 
say, you will waive your desire of it. A poem, thus 
disjointed, cannot possibly be fit for any body's 
inspection but the author's. 

Tully's rule " Nulla dies sine Itnea" will make 
a volume in less time than one would suppose. I 
adhered to it so rigidly, that though more than once 
I found three lines as many as I had time to compass, 
still I wrote ; and finding occasionally, and as it might 
happen, a more fluent vein, the abundance of one day 
made me amends for the barrenness of another. But I 
do not mean to write blank verse again. Not having the 
music of rhyme, it requires so close an attention to the 
pause and the cadence, and such a peculiar mode of 
expression, as render it, to me at least, the most diffi- 
cult species of poetry that I have ever meddled with. 



328 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1784 

I am obliged to you, and to Mr. Bacon, for your 
kind remembrance of me when you meet. No artist 
can excel as he does, without the finest feelings ; and 
every man that has the finest feelings is, and must be, 
amiable. 

Adieu, my dear friend ! Affectionately yours, 

W. C. 



CXXXI 

To Joseph Hill, Esq. 

Dec. 4, 1784. 

MY DEAR FRIEND, 

You have my hearty thanks for a very good barrel of 
oysters ; which necessary acknowledgment once made, 
I might perhaps show more kindness by cutting short 
an epistle, than by continuing one, in which you are not 
likely to find your account, either in the way of infor- 
mation or amusement. The season of the year, indeed, 
is not very friendly to such communications. A damp 
atmosphere and a sunless sky will have their effect 
upon the spirits; and when the spirits are checked, 
farewell to all hope of being good company, either 
by letter or otherwise. I envy those happy voyagers, 
who, with so much ease, ascend to regions unsullied 
with a cloud, and date their epistles from an extra- 
mundane situation. No wonder if they outshine us 
who poke about in the dark below, in the vivacity of 
their sallies, as much as they soar above us in their 
excursions. Not but that I should be very sorry to 



1784] TO JOSEPH HILL, ESQ. 329 

go to the clouds for wit : on the contrary, I am satis- 
fied that I discover more by continuing where I am. 
Every man to his business. Their vocation is, to see 
fine prospects, and to make pithy observations upon 
the world below ; such as these, for instance : that the 
earth, beheld from a height that one trembles to think 
of, has the appearance of a circular plain ; that Eng- 
land is a very rich and cultivated country, in which 
every man's property is ascertained by the hedges that 
intersect the lands ; and that London and Westminster, 
seen from the neighbourhood of the moon, make but 
an insignificant figure. I admit the utility of these 
remarks; but in the mean time, as I say, chacun 
a son gout ; and mine is rather to creep than fly ; 
and to carry with me, if possible, an unbroken neck 
to the grave. I remain, as ever, your affectionate 

WM. COWPER. 



CXXXII 

To the Rev. John Newton. 

Dec. ii, 1784. 

MY DEAR FRIEND, 

Having imitated no man, I may reasonably hope 
that I shall not incur the disadvantage of a compari- 
son with my betters. Milton's manner was peculiar. 
So is Thomson's. He that should write like either 
of them, would, in my judgement, deserve the name of 
a copyist, but not of a poet. A judicious and sensible 



330 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1784 

reader, therefore, like yourself, will not say that my 
manner is not good, because it does not resemble 
theirs, but will rather consider what it is in itself. 
Blank verse is susceptible of a much greater diversifica- 
tion of manner, than verse in rhyme: and why the 
modern writers of it have all thought proper to cast 
their numbers alike, I know not. Certainly it was not 
necessity that compelled them to it. I flatter myself 
however that I have avoided that sameness with others, 
which would entitle me to nothing but a share in one 
common oblivion with them all. It is possible that, 
as the reviewer of my former volume found cause to say 
that he knew not to what class of writers to refer me, 
the reviewer of this, whosoever he shall be, may see 
occasion to remark the same singularity. At any rate, 
though as little apt to be sanguine as most men, and 
more prone to fear and despond, than to overrate my 
own productions, I am persuaded that I shall not 
forfeit any thing by this volume that I gained by the 
last 

As to the title, I take it to be the best that is to be 
had. It is not possible that a book, including such 
a variety of subjects, and in which no particular one 
is predominant, should find a title adapted to them 
all. In such a case, it seemed almost necessary to 
accommodate the name to the incident that gave birth 
to the poem ; nor does it appear to me, that because 
I performed more than my task, therefore The Task is 
not a suitable title. A house would still be a house, 
though the builder of it should make it ten times as 



1784] TO THE REV. JOHN NEWTON 331 

big as he at first intended. I might indeed, following 
the example of the Sunday newsmonger, call it The 
Olio. But I should do myself wrong ; for though it 
have much variety, it has, I trust, no confusion. 

For the same reason none of the interior titles apply 
themselves to the contents at large of that book to 
which they belong. They are, every one of them, 
taken either from the leading, (I should say the intro- 
ductory,) passage of that particular book, or from that 
which makes the most conspicuous figure in it. Had 
I set off with a design to write upon a gridiron, and 
had I actually written near two hundred lines upon 
that utensil, as I have upon the Sofa, The Gridiron 
should have been my title. But the Sofa being, as I 
may say, the starting-post from which I addressed 
myself to the long race that I soon conceived a design 
to run, it acquired a just pre-eminence in my account, 
and was very worthily advanced to the titular honour 
it enjoys, its right being at least so far a good one, 
that no word in the language could pretend a better. 

The Time -piece appears to me, (though by some 
accident the import of that title has escaped you,) to 
have a degree of propriety beyond the most of them. 
The book to which it belongs is intended to strike the 
hour that gives notice of approaching judgement, and 
dealing pretty largely in the signs of the times, seems 
to be denominated, as it is, with a sufficient degree of 
accommodation to the subject. 

As to the word worm, it is the very appellation 
which Milton himself, in a certain passage of the 



332 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1784 

Paradise Lost, gives to the serpent. Not having the 
book at hand I cannot now refer to it ; but I am sure 
of the fact. I am mistaken, too, if Shakespeare's 
Cleopatra do not call the asp, by which she thought 
fit to destroy herself, by the same name. But not 
having read the play these five-and-twenty years, I 
will not affirm it. They are, however, without all 
doubt, convertible terms. A worm is a small serpent, 
and a serpent is a large worm. And when an epithet 
significant of the most terrible species of those creatures 
is adjoined, the idea is surely sufficiently ascertained. 
No animal of the vermicular or serpentine kind is 
crested, but the most formidable of all. 

We do not often see, or rather feel, so severe a 
frost before Christmas. Unexpected, at least by me, 
it had like to have been too much for my greenhouse, 
my myrtles having found themselves yesterday 
morning in an atmosphere so cold that the mercury 
was fallen eight degrees below the freezing point. 

We are truly sorry for Mrs. Newton's indisposition, 
and shall be glad to hear of her recovery. We are 
most liable to colds at this season, and at this season 
a cold is most difficult of cure. 

Be pleased to remember us to the young ladies, 
and to all under your roof and elsewhere, who are 
mindful of us. And believe me, your affectionate, 

WM. COWPER. 

Your letters are gone to their address. The 
oysters were very good. 



1784] TO MR. JOHNSON 333 

CXXXIII 

To Mr. Johnson} 

I did not write the line, that has been tampered with, 
hastily, or without due attention to the construction of 
it ; and what appeared to me its only merit is, in its 
present state, entirely annihilated. 

I know that the ears of modern verse-writers are 
delicate to an excess, and their readers are troubled 
with the same squeamishness as themselves. So that 
if a line do not run as smooth as quicksilver they are 
offended. A critic of the present day serves a poem 
as a cook serves a dead turkey, when she fastens the 
legs of it to a post, and draws out all the sinews. For 
this we may thank Pope ; but unless we could imitate 
him in the closeness and compactness of his expres- 
sion, as well as in the smoothness of his numbers, we 
had better drop the imitation, which serves no other 
purpose than to emasculate and weaken all we write. 
Give me a manly, rough line, with a deal of meaning 
in it, rather than a whole poem full of musical periods, 
that have nothing but their oily smoothness to recom- 
mend them ! 

I have said thus much, as I hinted in the beginning, 
because I have just finished a much longer poem than 
the last, which our common friend will receive by the 
same messenger that has the charge of this letter. In 
that poem there are many lines, which an ear, so nice 
1 Joseph Johnson, Cowper's publisher. 



334 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1785 

as the gentleman's who made the above mentioned 
alteration, would undoubtedly condemn ; and yet (if 
I may be permitted to say it) they cannot be made 
smoother without being the worse for it. There is a 
roughness on a plum, which nobody that understands 
fruit would rub off, though the plum would be much 
more polished without it. But lest I tire you, I will 
only add, that I wish you to guard me from all such 
meddling ; assuring you, that I always write as 
smoothly as I can ; but that I never did, never will, 
sacrifice the spirit or sense of a passage to the sound 
of it. 



CXXXIV 
To Joseph Hill, Esq. 

Jan. 22, 1785. 

MY DEAR FRIEND, 

The departure of the long frost, by which we were 
pinched and squeezed together for three weeks, is a 
most agreeable circumstance. The weather is now 
(to speak poetically) genial and jocund ; and the 
appearance of the sun, after so tedious an eclipse, 
peculiarly welcome. For were it not that I have a 
gravel-walk about sixty yards long, where I take my 
daily exercise, I should be obliged to look at a fine 
day through the window, without any other enjoyment 
of it ; a country rendered impassable by frost, that 
has been at last resolved into rottenness, keeps me 
so close a prisoner. Long live the inventors and 



1785] TO JOSEPH HILL, ESQ. 335 

improvers of balloons ! It is always clear overhead, 
and by and by we shall use no other road. 

How will the Parliament employ themselves when 
they meet ? to any purpose, or to none, or only to a 
bad one? They are utterly out of my favour. I 
despair of them altogether. Will they pass an act for 
the cultivation of the royal wildernesses ? Will they 
make effectual provision for a northern fishery ? Will 
they establish a new sinking-fund, that shall infallibly 
pay off the national debt? I say nothing about a 
more equal representation, because, unless they bestow 
upon private gentlemen of no property a privilege of 
voting, I stand no chance of ever being represented 
myself. Will they achieve all these wonders, or none 
of them? And shall I derive no other advantage 
from the great Wittena - Gemot of the nation, than 
merely to read their debates, for twenty folios of 
which I would not give one farthing? Yours, my 

dear friend ' WM. COWPER. 



cxxxv 

To the Rev, William Unwin. 

Feb. 7, 1785. 

MY DEAR FRIEND, 

We live in a state of such uninterrupted retirement, 
in which incidents worthy to be recorded occur so 
seldom, that I always sit down to write with a 



336 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1785 

discouraging conviction that I have nothing to say. 
The event commonly justifies the presage. For when I 
have filled my sheet, I find that I have said nothing. 
Be it known to you, however, that I may now at least 
communicate a piece of intelligence to which you will 
not be altogether indifferent, that I have received, and 
revised, and returned to Johnson, the two first proof 
sheets of my new publication. The business was dis- 
patched indeed a fortnight ago, since when I have 
heard from him no further. From such a beginning, 
however, I venture to prognosticate the progress, and 
in due time the conclusion of the matter. 

In the last Gentleman's Magazine my Poplar Field 
appears. I have accordingly sent up two pieces more, 
a Latin translation of it, which you have never seen, 
and another on a Rose-bud, the neck of which I inad- 
vertently broke, which, whether you have seen or not, 
I know not. As fast as Nichols prints off the poems 
I send him, I send him new ones. My remittance 
usually consists of two ; and he publishes one of them 
at a time. I may indeed furnish him at this rate, 
without putting myself to any great inconvenience. 
For my last supply was transmitted to him in August, 
and is but now exhausted. 

I communicate the following anecdote at your 
mother's instance, who will surfer no part of my praise 
to be sunk in oblivion. A certain lord Archibald 
Hamilton has hired the house of Mr. Small at Clifton, 
in our neighbourhood, for a hunting seat. There he 
lives at present with his wife and daughter. They are 



1785] TO THE REV. WILLIAM UNWIN 337 

an exemplary family in some respects, and I believe 
an amiable one in all. The Rev. Mr. Jones, the 
curate of that parish, who often dines with them by 
invitation on a Sunday, recommended my volume to 
their reading ; and his lordship, after having perused 
a part of it, expressed to the said Mr. Jones an ardent 
desire to be acquainted with the author, from motives 
which my great modesty will not suffer me to particu- 
larize. Mr. Jones, however, like a wise man, informed 
his lordship, that for certain special reasons and causes 
I had declined going into company for many years, 
and that therefore he must not hope for my acquaint- 
ance. His lordship most civilly subjoined that he was 
very sorry for it. 

" And is that all ? " say you. Now, were I to hear 
you say so, I should look foolish and say " Yes." 
But having you at a distance, I snap my fingers at 
you and say "No, that is not all." Mr. Teedon, 
who favours us now and then with his company in an 
evening, as usual, was not long since discoursing with 
that eloquence which is so peculiar to himself, on the 
many providential interpositions that had taken place 
in his favour. " He had wished for many things (he 
said,) which, at the time when he formed those wishes, 
seemed distant and improbable, some of them indeed 
impossible. Among other wishes that he had indulged, 
one was, that he might be connected with men of 
genius and ability ; and in my connexion with this 
worthy gentleman, (said he, turning to me,) that wish, 
I am sure, is amply gratified." You may suppose that 
VOL. i z 



338 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1785 

I felt the sweat gush out upon my forehead, when I 
heard this speech ; and if you do, you will not be at 
all mistaken. So much was I delighted with the 
delicacy of that incense. 

Thus far I proceeded easily enough ; and here I 
laid down my pen, and spent some minutes in recol- 
lection, endeavouring to find some subject, with which 
I might fill the little blank that remains. But none 
presents itself. Farewell therefore, and remember 
those who are mindful of you ! 

Present our love to all your comfortable fire-side, 
and believe me ever most affectionately yours, 

W. C. 



CXXXVI 

To the Rev. John Newton. 

OLNEY, Feb. 19, 1785. 

MY DEAR FRIEND, 

I am obliged to you for apprising me of the various 
occasions of delay to which your letters are liable. 
Furnished with such a key, I shall be able to account 
for any accidental tardiness, without supposing any 
thing worse than that you yourself have been inter- 
rupted, or that your messenger has not been punctual. 

Mr. Teedon has just left us. He came to exhibit 
to us a specimen of his kinsman's skill in the art of 
book-binding. The book on which he had exercised 
his ingenuity was your Life. You did not, indeed, 



1785] TO THE REV. JOHN NEWTON 339 

make a very splendid appearance; but, considering 
that you were dressed by an untaught artificer, 
and that it was his first attempt, you had no cause 
to be dissatisfied. The young man has evidently 
the possession of talents, by which he might shine 
both for the benefit of others and for his own, did 
not his situation smother him. He can make a 
dulcimer, tune it, play upon it, and with common 
advantages would undoubtedly have been able to 
make an harpsichord. But, unfortunately, he lives 
where neither the one nor the other are at all in 
vogue. He can convert the shell of a cocoa-nut 
into a decent drinking-cup ; but when he has done, he 
must either fill it at the pump, or use it merely as an 
ornament of his own mantle-tree. In like manner, he 
can bind a book ; but if he would have books to bind, 
he must either make them or buy them, for we have 
few or no literati at Olney. Some men have talents 
with which they do mischief; and others have talents 
with which, if they do no mischief to others, at least 
they can do but little good to themselves. They are, 
however, always a blessing, unless by our own folly 
we make them a curse ; for if we cannot turn them to 
a lucrative account, they may however furnish us, at 
many a dull season, with the means of innocent 
amusement. Such is the use that Mr. Killingworth 
makes of his ; and this evening we have, I think, made 
him happy, having furnished him with two octavo 
volumes, in which the principles and practice of all 
ingenious arts are inculcated and explained. I make 



340 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1785 

little doubt that, by the half of it, he will in time be 
able to perform many feats, for which he will never 
be one farthing the richer, but by which, nevertheless, 
himself and his kin will be much diverted. 

How much better is he employed than a neighbour 
of ours has been for many years, whose sole occupa- 
tion, although he too is naturally ingenious, has centred 
in filling his glass and emptying it. He is neither 
unknown faor much known to you, but you remember 
him by the name of Geary Ball. He is now languish- 
ing in a dropsy, and, in the prime of life, labouring 
under all the infirmities of age. He solaces himself, 
I am told, with the recollection of somewhat that 
passed in his experience many years ago, which, 
although it has been followed by no better fruits than 
will grow at an alehouse, he dignifies with the name 
of Conversion. Sows are so converted when they are 
washed, and give the same evidence of an unchanged 
nature by returning to the mire. Mr. Perry, whose 
daughter he married, often visits him, but declares, 
that of all the insensibles he ever saw, poor Geary is 
the most completely stupid. So long as he was able 
to crawl into the street, his journey was to the Royal 
Oak and home again ; and so punctual were we both, 
I in cleaning my teeth at my window, and he in 
drinking his dram at the same time, that I seldom 
failed to observe him. But both his legs are now 
blistered, and refuse to assist him in poisoning himself 
any longer. 

Osborn, the Baptist, as Mr. Wilson informed me, 



1785] TO THE REV. JOHN NEWTON 341 

had determined to pay William Penn an official visit 
as a deacon of the church, for the purpose of imparting 
to him the sentence of his expulsion, but meeting him 
accidentally in the street, and discerning both in his 
gait and in his features, indications of a temper that 
it might not be safe to irritate, abandoned his purpose 
for ever. These men both have wives, and neither of 
them believes the sin and folly of their husbands. 

The winter returning upon us at this late season 
with redoubled severity, is an event unpleasant even 
to us who are well furnished with fuel, and seldom feel 
much of it, unless when we step into bed or get out of 
it ; but how much more formidable to the poor ! When 
ministers talk of resources, that word never fails to 
send my imagination into the mud-wall cottages of our 
poor at Olney. There I find assembled in one indivi- 
dual, the miseries of age, sickness, and the extremest 
penury. We have many such instances around us. 
The parish, perhaps, allows such a one a shilling a 
week ; but, being numbed with cold, and crippled by 
disease, she cannot possibly earn herself another. Such 
persons, therefore, suffer all that famine can inflict 
upon them, only that they are not actually starved ; a 
catastrophe which, to many of them, I suppose, would 
prove a happy release. One cause of all this misery 
is, the exorbitant taxation with which the country is 
encumbered ; so that, to the poor, the few pence they 
are able to procure have almost lost their value. Yet 
the budget will be opened soon, and soon we shall 
hear of resources. But I could conduct the states- 



342 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1785 

man, who rolls down to the House in a chariot as 
splendid as that of Phaeton, into scenes that, if he had 
any sensibility for the woes of others, would make him 
tremble at the mention of the word. This, however, 
is not what I intended when I began this paragraph. 
I was going to observe, that of all the winters we have 
passed at Olney, and this is the seventeenth, the 
present has confined us most. Thrice, and but thrice, 
since the middle of October, have we escaped into the 
fields for a little fresh air, and a little change of 
motion. The last time, indeed, it was at some peril 
that we did it, Mrs. Unwin having slipped into a ditch, 
and, though I performed the part of an active 'squire 
upon the occasion, escaped out of it upon her hands 
and knees. 

If the town afford any other news than I here send 
you, it has not reached me yet. I am in perfect 
health, at least of body, and Mrs. Unwin is tolerably 
well. Adieu ! We remember you always, you and 
yours, with as much affection as you can desire ; which 
being said, and said truly, leaves me quite at a loss for 
any other conclusion than that of 

WM. COWPER. 

CXXXVII 

To the Rev. John Newton. 

March 19, 1785. 

MY DEAR FRIEND, 

You will wonder, no doubt, when I tell you that 



1785] TO THE REV. JOHN NEWTON 343 

I write upon a card-table ; and will be still more 
surprised when I add, that we breakfast, dine, sup, 
upon a card-table. In short, it serves all purposes, 
except the only one for which it was originally de- 
signed. The solution of this mystery shall follow, 
lest it should run in your head at a wrong time, and 
should puzzle you, perhaps, when you are on the point 
of ascending your pulpit : for I have heard you say, 
that at such seasons your mind is often troubled with 
impertinent intrusions. The round table, which we 
formerly had in use, was unequal to the pressure of 
my superincumbent breast and elbows. When I wrote 
upon it, it creaked and tilted, and, by a variety of 
inconvenient tricks, disturbed the process. The fly- 
table was too slight and too small ; the square dining- 
table, too heavy and too large, occupying, when its 
leaves were spread, almost the whole parlour ; and the 
sideboard-table, having its station at too great a dis- 
tance from the fire, and not being easily shifted out of 
its place and into it again, by reason of its size, was 
equally unfit for my purpose. The card-table, there- 
fore, which had for sixteen years been banished as 
mere lumber; the card-table, which is covered with 
green baize, and is, therefore, preferable to any other 
that has a slippery surface ; the card-table, that stands 
firm and never totters, is advanced to the honour 
of assisting me upon my scribbling occasions ; and, 
because we choose to avoid the trouble of making 
frequent changes in the position of our household furni- 
ture, proves equally serviceable upon all others. It 



344 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1785 

has cost us now and then the downfall of a glass : for, 
when covered with a table-cloth, the fish-ponds are not 
easily discerned ; and not being seen, are sometimes 
as little thought of. But having numerous good 
qualities which abundantly compensate that single in- 
convenience, we spill upon it our coffee, our wine, and 
our ale, without murmuring, and resolve that it shall be 
our table still, to the exclusion of all others. Not to 
be tedious, I will add but one more circumstance upon 
the subject, and that only because it will impress upon 
you, as much as any thing that I have said, a sense of 
the value we set upon its escritorial capacity. Parched 
and penetrated on one side by the heat of the fire, it 
has opened into a large fissure, which pervades not the 
moulding of it only, but the very substance of the 
plank. At the mouth of this aperture, a sharp splinter 
presents itself, which, as sure as it comes in contact 
with a gown or an apron, tears it. It happens, unfor- 
tunately, to be on that side of this excellent and never- 
to-be-forgotten table which Mrs. Unwin sweeps with 
her apparel, almost as often as she rises from her 
chair. The consequences need not, to use the fashion- 
able phrase, be given in detail : but the needle sets all 
to rights ; and the card-table still holds possession of 
its functions without a rival. 

Clean roads and milder weather have once more 
released us, opening a way for our escape into our 
accustomed walks. We have both, I believe, been 
sufferers by such a long confinement. Mrs. Unwin 
has had a nervous fever all the winter, and I a 



1785] TO THE REV. JOHN NEWTON 345 

stomach that has quarrelled with every thing, and not 
seldom even with its bread and butter. Her com- 
plaint, I hope, is at length removed ; but mine seems 
more obstinate, giving way to nothing that I can 
oppose to it, except just in the moment when the 
opposition is made. I ascribe this malady both our 
maladies, indeed in a great measure, to our want of 
exercise. We have each of us practised more, in other 
days, than lately we have been able to take ; and for 
my own part, till I was more than thirty years old, it 
was almost essential to my comfort to be perpetually 
in motion. My constitution, therefore, misses, I doubt 
not, its usual aids of this kind ; and unless, for pur- 
poses which I cannot foresee, Providence should inter- 
pose to prevent it, will probably reach the moment of 
its dissolution the sooner for being so little disturbed. 
A vitiated digestion, I believe, always terminates, if 
not cured, in the production of some chronical dis- 
order. In several I have known it produce a dropsy. 
But no matter. Death is inevitable ; and whether we 
die to-day or to-morrow, a watery death or a dry one, 
is of no consequence. The state of our spiritual health 
is all. Could I discover a few more symptoms of 
convalescence there, this body might moulder into its 
original dust without one sigh from me. Nothing of 
all this did I mean to say ; but I have said it, and 
must now seek another subject. 

One of our most favourite walks is spoiled. The 
spinney is cut down to the stumps : even the lilacs 
and the syringas, to the stumps. Little did I think, 



346 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1785 

(though indeed I might have thought it,) that the 
trees which skreened me from the sun last summer 
would this winter be employed in roasting potatoes 
and boiling tea-kettles for the poor of Olney. But so 
it has proved : and we ourselves have, at this moment, 
more than two waggon loads of them in our wood-loft. 

Such various services can trees perform ; 

Whom once they skreen'd from heat, in time they warm. 

The mention of the poor reminds me of saying, in 
answer to your application in behalf of the Freemans, 
that they long since received a portion of their name- 
less benefactor's annual remittance. Mrs. Unwin sent 
them more than twelve pounds of beef, and two gallon 
loaves. 

A letter from Manchester reached our town last 
Sunday, addressed to the Mayor or other chief 
magistrate of Olney. The purport of it was, to excite 
him and his neighbours to petition Parliament against 
the concessions to Ireland that Government has in 
contemplation. Mr. Maurice Smith, as constable, took 
the letter. But whether that most respectable per- 
sonage amongst us intends to comply with the terms 
of it, or not, I am ignorant. For myself, however, I 
can pretty well answer, that I shall sign no petition of 
the sort ; both because I do not think myself com- 
petent to a right understanding of the question, and 
because it appears to me, that, whatever be the event, 
no place in England can be less concerned in it than 
Olney. 

We rejoice that you are all well. Our love attends 



1785] TO THE REV. WILLIAM UNWIN 347 

Mrs. Newton and yourself, and the young ladies. I 
am yours, my dear friend, as usual, WM CowpER 



CXXXVIII 
To the Rev. William Unwin. 

March zo, 1785. 

MY DEAR WILLIAM, 

I thank you for your letter. It made me laugh, 
and there are not many things capable of being con- 
tained within the dimensions of a letter, for which I 
see cause to be more thankful. I was pleased too to 
see my opinion of his Lordship's nonchalance upon 
a subject that you had so much at heart, completely 
verified. I do not know that the eye of a nobleman 
was ever dissected. I cannot help supposing how- 
ever that, were that organ, as it exists in the head of 
such a personage, to be accurately examined, it would 
be found to differ materially in its construction from 
the eye of a commoner ; so very different is the view 
that men in an elevated, and in an humble station, 
have of the same object. What appears great, sublime, 
beautiful, and important, to you and to me, when 
submitted to the notice of my lord, or his grace, and 
submitted too with the utmost humility, is either too 
minute to be visible at all, or if seen, seems trivial, 
and of no account. My supposition therefore seems 
not altogether chimerical. 

In two months I have corrected proof sheets to the 



348 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1785 

amount of ninety-six pages, and no more. In other 
words, I have received three packets. Nothing is 
quick enough for impatience, and I suppose that the 
impatience of an author has the quickest of all possible 
movements. It appears to me however that at this 
rate we shall not publish till next autumn. Should you 
happen therefore to pass Johnson's door, pop in your 
head as you go, and just insinuate to him, that, were 
his remittances rather more frequent, that frequency 
would be no inconvenience to me. I much expected 
one this evening, a fortnight having now elapsed since 
the arrival of the last. But none came, and I felt 
myself a little mortified. I took up the newspaper 
however, and read it. There I found that the 
emperor and the Dutch are, after all their negotia- 
tions, going to war. Such reflections as these struck 
me. A great part of Europe is going to be involved 
in the greatest of all calamities; troops are in 
motion, artillery is drawn together, cabinets are 
busied in contriving schemes of blood and devasta- 
tion, thousands will perish, who are incapable of 
understanding the dispute ; and thousands, who, what- 
ever the event may be, are little more interested in it 
than myself, will suffer unspeakable hardships in the 
course of the quarrel : Well ! Mr. Poet, and how 
then? You have composed certain verses, which 
you are desirous to see in print, and because the 
impression seems to be delayed, you are displeased, 
not to say dispirited ; be ashamed of yourself ! you 
live in a world in which your feelings may find 



1785] TO THE REV. WILLIAM UNWIN 349 

worthier subjects ; be concerned for the havoc of 
nations, and mourn over your retarded volume when 
you find a dearth of more important tragedies ! 

You postpone certain topics of conference to our 
next meeting. When shall it take place ? I do not 
wish for you just now, because the garden is a 
wilderness, and so is all the country around us. In 
May we shall have asparagus, and plenty of cucumbers, 
and weather in which we may stroll to Weston ; at 
least we may hope for it ; therefore come in May ; 
you will find us happy to receive you, and as much 
of your fair household as you can bring with you. 

We are very sorry for your Uncle's indisposition. 
The approach of summer seems however to be much 
in his favour, that season being of all remedies for 
the rheumatism I believe the most effectual. 

I thank you for your intelligence concerning the 
celebrity of John Gilpin. You may be sure that it 
was agreeable ; but your own feelings on occasion of 
that article pleased me most of all. Well, my friend, 
be comforted ! You had not an opportunity of saying 
publicly, " I know the Author." But the author him- 
self will say as much for you soon, and perhaps will 
feel in doing so a gratification equal to your own. 

In the affair of face-painting, I am precisely of your 

opinion. Adieu, 

W. C. 



350 LETTERS FROM OLNEV [1785 



CXXXIX 

To the Rev. John Newton. 

April 9, 1785. 

MY DEAR FRIEND, 

In a letter to the printer of the Northampton Mer- 
cury, we have the following history. An ecclesiastic 
of the name of Zichen, German superintendant or 
Lutheran bishop of Zetterfeldt, in the year 1779 
delivered to the Courts of Hanover and Brunswick 
a prediction to the following purport. That an earth- 
quake is at hand, the greatest and most destructive 
ever known ; that it will originate in the Alps and in 
their neighbourhood, especially at Mount St. Gothard ; 
at the foot of which mountain, it seems, four rivers 
have their source, of which the Rhine is one. The 
names of the rest I have forgotten. They are all to 
be swallowed up. That the earth will open into an 
immense fissure, which will divide all Europe, reach- 
ing from the aforesaid mountain to the states of Hol- 
land; that the Zuyder Sea will be absorbed in the 
gulf; that the Bristol Channel will be no more : in 
short, that the North of Europe will be separated from 
the South, and that seven thousand cities, towns, and 
villages, will be destroyed. This prediction he de- 
livered at the aforesaid Courts, in the year seventy-nine, 
asserting, that in February following the commotion 
would begin, and that by Easter 1786, the whole 
would be accomplished. Accordingly, between the 



1785] TO THE REV. JOHN NEWTON 351 

fifteenth and twenty-seventh of February, in the year 
eighty, the public gazettes and newspapers took notice 
of several earthquakes in the Alps, and in the regions 
at their foot ; particularly about Mount St. Gothard. 
From this partial fulfilment, Mr. Okely argues the 
probability of a complete one, and exhorts the world 
to watch and be prepared. He adds, moreover, that 
Mr. Zichen was a pious man, a man of science, and a 
man of sense ; and that when he gave in his writing, 
he offered to swear to it I suppose, as a revelation 
from above. He is since dead. 

Nothing in the whole affair pleases me so much, as 
that he has named a short day for the completion of 
his prophecy. It is tedious work to hold the judge- 
ment in suspense for many years ; but any body, me- 
thinks, may wait with patience till a twelvemonth shall 
pass away, especially when an earthquake of such mag- 
nitude is in question. I do not say that Mr. Zichen 
is deceived ; but if he be not, I will say that he is the 
first modern prophet who has not both been a subject 
of deception himself, and a deceiver of others. A 
year will show. 

Mrs. Unwin thanks Mrs. Newton for her letter. 
We hope that Patty has been falsely accused. But, 
however that may be, we see great cause to admire 
either the cogency of her arguments, or her husband's 
openness to conviction, who, by a single box on the 
ear, was so effectually assured of the innocence of his 
wife, as to become more attached to her than ever. 
For the sake of good husbands, it is to be hoped that 



352 LETTERS FROM OLNEY 

she will keep her nostrum a secret, or communicate 
it only to ladies in her own predicament, who have 
need of the most forcible proofs of their integrity. 

Our love attends all your family. Believe me, my 
dear friend, affectionately yours, WM CowpER 



CXL 
To the Rev. William Unwin. 

April 30, 1785. 

MY DEAR FRIEND, 

I return you thanks for a letter so warm with the 
intelligence of the celebrity of John Gilpin. I little 
thought, when I mounted him upon my Pegasus, that 
he would become so famous. I have learned also, 
from Mr. Newton, that he is equally renowned in 
Scotland, and that a lady there had undertaken to 
write a second part, on the subject of Mrs. Gilpin's 
return to London, but not succeeding in it as she 
wished, she dropped it. He tells me likewise, that 
the head master of St. Paul's school, (who he is I 
know not,) has conceived, in consequence of the enter- 
tainment that John has afforded him, a vehement 
desire to write to me. Let us hope he will alter his 
mind ; for should we even exchange civilities upon the 
occasion, Tirocinium will spoil all. The great estima- 
tion however in which this knight of the stone-bottles 
is held, may turn out a circumstance propitious to the 
volume of which his history will make a part. Those 



1785] TO THE REV. WILLIAM UN WIN 353 

events that prove the prelude to our greatest success, 
are often apparently trivial in themselves, and such as 
seemed to promise nothing. The disappointment that 
Horace mentions is reversed We design a mug, and 
it proves a hogshead. It is a little hard, that I alone 
should be unfurnished with a printed copy of this 
facetious story. When you visit London next, you 
must buy the most elegant impression of it, and bring 
it with you. I thank you also for writing to Johnson. 
I likewise wrote to him myself. Your letter and mine 
together have operated to admiration. There needs 
nothing more but that the effect be lasting, and the 
whole will soon be printed. We now draw towards 
the middle of the fifth book of The Task. The 
man, Johnson, is like unto some vicious horses, 
that I have known. They would not budge till 
they were spurred, and when they were spurred, they 
would kick. So did he ; his temper was somewhat 
disconcerted : but his pace was quickened, and I was 
contented. 

I was very much pleased with the following sentence 
in Mr. Newton's last ; " I am perfectly satisfied with 
the propriety of your proceeding as to the publica- 
tion." Now therefore we are friends again. Now 
he once more enquires after the work, which, till he 
had disburthened himself of this acknowledgement, 
neither he nor I, in any of our letters to each other, 
ever mentioned. Some side-wind has wafted to him 
a report of those reasons by which I justified my 
conduct. I never made a secret of them, but both 

VOL. I 2 A 



354 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1785 

your mother and I have studiously deposited them 
with those who we thought were most likely to trans- 
mit them to him. They wanted only a hearing, which 
once obtained, their solidity and cogency were such 
that they were sure to prevail. 

You mention Bensley. I formerly knew the man 
you mention, but his elder brother much better. We 
were schoolfellows, and he was one of a club of seven 
Westminster men, to which I belonged, who dined 
together every Thursday. Should it please God to 
give me ability to perform the poet's part to some 
purpose, many whom I once called friends, but who 
have since treated me with a most magnificent indiffer- 
ence, will be ready to take me by the hand again, 
and some, whom I never held in that estimation, will, 
like Bensley, (who was but a boy when I left London,) 
boast of a connexion with me which they never had. 
Had I the virtues, and graces, and accomplishments 
of St. Paul himself, I might have them at Olney, and 
nobody would care a button about me, yourself and 
one or two more excepted. Fame begets favour ; and 
one talent, if it be rubbed a little bright by use and 
practice, will procure a man more friends than a 
thousand virtues. Dr. Johnson, I remember, in the 
life of one of our poets, (I believe of Savage,) says, 
that he retired from the world, flattering himself that 
he should be regretted. But the world never missed 
him. I think his observation upon it is, that the 
vacancy made by the retreat of any individual is soon 
filled up ; that a man may always be obscure, if he 



1785] TO THE REV. WILLIAM UNWIN 355 

chooses to be so ; and that he, who neglects the world, 
will be by the world neglected. 

Your mother and I walked yesterday in the Wilder- 
ness. As we entered the gate, a glimpse of something 
white, contained in a little hole in the gate-post, caught 
my eye. I looked again, and discovered a bird's nest, 
with two tiny eggs in it. By and by they will be 
fledged, and tailed, and get wing -feathers, and fly. 
My case is somewhat similar to that of the parent 
bird. My nest is in a little nook. Here I brood 
and hatch, and in due time my progeny takes wing 
and whistles. 

We wait for the time of your coming with pleasant 
expectation. Yours truly, 

VV \s 



CXLI 

To Joseph Hill, Esq. 

June 25, 1785. 

MY DEAR FRIEND, 

I write in a nook that I call my Boudoir. It is a 
summerhouse not much bigger than a sedan chair, the 
door of which opens into the garden, that is now 
crowded with pinks, roses, and honey-suckles, and the 
window into my neighbour's orchard. It formerly 
served an apothecary, now dead, as a smoking-room; 
and under my feet is a trap-door, which once covered 
a hole in the ground, where he kept his bottles. At 



356 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1785 

present, however, it is dedicated to sublimer uses. 
Having lined it with garden mats, and furnished it 
with a table and two chairs, here I write all that I 
write in summer-time, whether to my friends, or to 
the public. It is secure from all noise, and a refuge 
from all intrusion; for intruders sometimes trouble 
me in the winter evenings at Olney. But (thanks 
to my Boudoir /) I can now hide myself from them. 
A poet's retreat is sacred. They acknowledge the 
truth of that proposition, and never presume to 
violate it. 

The last sentence puts me in mind to tell you that 
I have ordered my volume to your door. My book- 
seller is the most dilatory of all his fraternity, or you 
would have received it long since. It is more than a 
month since I returned him the last proof, and con- 
sequently since the printing was finished. I sent him 
the manuscript at the beginning of last November, 
that he might publish while the town was full ; and he 
will hit the exact moment when it is entirely empty. 
Patience (you will perceive) is in no situation ex- 
empted from the severest trials ; a remark that may 
serve to comfort you under the numberless trials of 
your own. 



1785] TO THE REV. JOHN NEWTON 357 

CXLII 

To the Rev. John Newton. 

July 9, 1785. 

MY DEAR FRIEND, 

You wrong your own judgement when you represent 
it as not to be trusted ; and mine, if you suppose that 
I have that opinion of it. Had you disapproved, I 
should have been hurt and mortified. No man's dis- 
approbation would have hurt me more. Your favour- 
able sentiments of my book must consequently give 
me pleasure in the same proportion. By the post, last 
Sunday, I had a letter from Lord Dartmouth, in which 
he thanked me for my volume, of which he had read 
only a part. Of that part, however, he expresses him- 
self in terms with which my authorship has abundant 
cause to be satisfied ; and adds, that the specimen has 
made him impatient for the whole. I have likewise 
received a letter from a judicious friend of mine in 
London, and a man of fine taste, unknown to you, 
who speaks of it in the same language. Fortified by 
these cordials, I feel myself qualified to face the world 
without much anxiety, and delivered in a great measure 
from those fears which, I suppose, all men feel upon 
the like occasion. 

My first volume I sent, as you may remember, to 
the Lord Chancellor, accompanied by a friendly but 
respectful epistle. His Lordship, however, thought it 
not worth his while to return me any answer, or to 



35 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1785 

take the least notice of my present. I sent it also to 
Colman, manager of the Haymarket theatre, with 
whom I once was intimate. He likewise proved too 
great a man to recollect me ; and though he has 
published since, did not account it necessary to return 
the compliment. I have allowed myself to be a little 
pleased with an opportunity to show them that I resent 
their treatment of me, and have sent this book to 
neither of them. They, indeed, are the former friends 
to whom I particularly allude in my epistle to Mr. 
Hill ; and it is possible that they may take to them- 
selves a censure that they so well deserve. If not, it 
matters not ; for I shall never have any communica- 
tion with them hereafter. 

If Mr. Bates has found it difficult to furnish you 
with a motto to your volumes, I have no reason to 
imagine that I shall do it easily. I shall not leave my 
books unransacked; but there is something so new 
and peculiar in the occasion that suggested your 
subject, that I question whether, in all the classics, 
can be found a sentence suited to it Our sins and 
follies, in this country, assume a shape that Heathen 
writers had never any opportunity to notice. They 
deified the dead, indeed, but not in the Temple of 
Jupiter. The new-made god had an altar of his 
own ; and they conducted the ceremony without 
sacrilege or confusion. It is possible, however, and 
I think barely so, that somewhat may occur suscept- 
ible of accommodation to your purpose ; and if it 
should, I shall be happy to serve you with it. 



1785] TO THE REV. JOHN NEWTON 359 

I told you, I believe, that the spinney has been 
cut down ; and, though it may seem sufficient to 
have mentioned such an occurrence once, I cannot 
help recurring to the melancholy theme. Last 
night, at near nine o'clock, we entered it for the 
first time this summer. We had not walked many 
yards in it, before we perceived that this pleasant 
retreat is destined never to be a pleasant retreat 
again. In one more year, the whole will be a 
thicket. That which was once the serpentine walk 
is now in a state of transformation, and is already 
become as woody as the rest. Poplars and elms with- 
out number are springing in the turf. They are 
now as high as the knee. Before the summer is 
ended, they will be twice as high ; and the growth of 
another season will make them trees. It will then be 
impossible for any but a sportsman and his dog to 
penetrate it. The desolation of the whole scene is 
such, that it sunk our spirits. The ponds are dry. 
The circular one, in front of the hermitage, is filled 
with flags and rushes ; so that, if it contains any water, 
not a drop is visible. The weeping willow at the side 
of it, the only ornamental plant that has escaped the 
axe, is dead. The ivy and the moss, with which the 
hermitage was lined, are torn away ; and the very 
mats that covered the benches have been stripped off, 
rent in tatters, and trodden under foot. So farewell, 
spinney ; I have promised myself that I will never 
enter it again. We have both prayed in it ; you for 
me, and I for you. But it is desecrated from this time 



360 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1785 

forthj and the voice of prayer will be heard in it no 
more. The fate of it in this respect, however deplor- 
able, is not peculiar. The spot where Jacob anointed 
his pillar, and, which is more apposite, the spot once 
honoured with the presence of Him who dwelt in the 
bush, have long since suffered similar disgrace, and 
are become common ground. 

There is great severity in the application of the text 
you mention I am their music. But it is not the 
worse for that. We both approve it highly. The 
other in Ezekiel does not seem quite so pat. The 
prophet complains that his word was to the people like 
a pleasant song, heard with delight, but soon forgotten. 
At the commemoration, 1 I suppose that the word is 
nothing, but the music all in all. The Bible, however, 
will abundantly supply you with applicable passages. 
All passages, indeed, that animadvert upon the profana- 
tion of God's house and worship, seem to present 
themselves upon the occasion. 

We have returned thanks to Mr. Wm. Unwin for a 
turbot and lobster, and he disclaims all right to the 
acknowledgement. Is it due to you and Mrs. Newton ? 
If it be, accept a grateful one, accept likewise our love 
and best wishes ; and believe me, my dear friend, with 
warm and true affection, yours, 

WM. COWPER. 

1 The musical commemoration of Handel in Westminster 
Abbey, May 1784. Cowper regarded it as a profanation of the 
sacred building. He refers to the subject in a letter to the Rev. 
William Unwin (vol. v. pp. 101 sq. of Southey's edition). 



1785] TO THE REV. WILLIAM UNWIN 361 

CXLIII 

To the Rev. William Unwin. 

July 27, 1785. 

MY DEAR WILLIAM, 

You and your party left me in a frame of mind that 
indisposed me much to company. I comforted myself 
with the hope that I should spend a silent day, in 
which I should find abundant leisure to indulge sensa- 
tions which, though of the melancholy kind, I yet 
wished to nourish. But that hope proved vain. In 
less than an hour after your departure, Mr. Greatheed 
made his appearance at the greenhouse door. We 
were obliged to ask him to dinner, and he dined with 
us. He is an agreeable, sensible, well-bred young 
man ; but with all his recommendations I felt that on 
that occasion I could have spared him. So much 
better are the absent, whom we love much, than the 
present whom we love a little. I have however made 
myself amends since, and nothing else having inter- 
fered, have sent many a thought after you. 

You had been gone two days when a violent 
thunderstorm came over us. I was passing out of the 
parlour into the hall, with Mungo at my heels, when 
a flash seemed to fill the room with fire. In the same 
instant came the clap, so that the explosion was (I 
suppose) perpendicular to the roof. Mungo's courage 
upon the tremendous occasion constrained me to smile, 
in spite of the solemn impression that such an event 



.362 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1785 

never fails to affect me with ; the moment that he 
heard the thunder, (which was like the burst of a great 
gun,) with a wrinkled forehead, and with eyes directed 
to the ceiling, whence the sound seemed to proceed, 
he barked ; but he barked exactly in concert with the 
thunder. It thundered once, and he barked once ; 
and so precisely in the very instant when the thunder 
happened, that both sounds seemed to begin and to 
end together. Some dogs will clap their tails close, 
and sneak into a corner, at such a time, but Mungo 
it seems is of a more fearless family. A house at no 
great distance from ours was the mark to which the 
lightning was directed ; it knocked down the chimney, 
split the building, and carried away the corner of the 
next house, in which lay a fellow drunk, and asleep 
upon his bed; it roused and terrified him, and he 
promises to get drunk no more ; but I have seen a 
woeful end of many such conversions. I remember 
but one such storm at Olney since I have known the 
place ; and I am glad that it did not happen two days 
sooner for the sake of the ladies, who would probably, 
one of them at least, have been alarmed by it. You 
have left behind you Thomson's Seasons, and a bottle 
of hartshorn. I will not promise that you shall ever 
see the latter again ; having a sorethroat, I made free 
with part of it this morning, in the way of outward 
application, and we shall probably find a use for the 
remainder. The Seasons you shall have again. 

I have received, since you went, two very flattering 
letters of thanks, one from Mr. Bacon, and one from 



1785] TO THE REV. WILLIAM UNWIN 363 

Mr. Barham, such as might make a lean poet plump, 
and an humble poet proud. But being myself neither 
lean nor humble, I know of no other effect that they 
had, than that they pleased me ; and I communicate 
the intelligence to you, not without an assured hope 
that you will be pleased also. We are now going to 
walk, and thus far I have written before I have 
received your letter. Friday. I must now be as 
compact as possible. When I began, I designed four 
sides, but my packet being transformed into two single 
epistles, I can consequently afford you but three. 
I have filled a large sheet with animadversions upon 
Pope, and shall send it by Sunday's post, indifferent 
whether Nichols detects me or not. I am proceeding 
in my translation " Veils et remis, omnibus nervis " 
as Hudibras has it; and if God give me health 
and ability, will put it into your hands when I see you 
next. 

Your fish was good, perfectly good, and we did 
not forget you in our cups. The money was found, 
and not a farthing had eloped. My hat is come, and 
we both admire it ; but your mother's either was 
never sent, or sent the wrong way, for it has not 
reached us. Tell John that I love him with all my 
heart for doing so much credit to his tutor, and to 
my public recommendation of the very plan upon 
which he is educated. 

Mr. Teedon has just left us. He has read my 
book, and, as if fearful that I had overlooked some of 
them myself, has pointed out to me all its beauties. I 



364 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1785 

do assure you the man has a very acute discernment, 
and a taste that I have no fault to find with. I hope 
that you are of the same opinion. 

Be not sorry that your love of Christ was excited in 
you by a picture. Could a dog or a cat suggest to 
me the thought that Christ is precious, I would not 
despise that thought because a dog or a cat suggested 
it. The meanness of the instrument cannot debase 
the nobleness of the principle. He that kneels before 
a picture of Christ, is an idolater : but he in whose 
heart the sight of such a picture kindles a warm 
remembrance of the Saviour's sufferings, must be a 
Christian. Suppose that I dream as Gardiner did, 
that Christ walks before me, that he turns and smiles 
upon me, and fills my soul with ineffable love and joy; 
will a man tell me that I am deceived, that I ought 
not to love or rejoice in him for such a reason, because 
a dream is merely a picture drawn upon the imagina- 
tion ? I hold not with such divinity. To love Christ 
is the greatest dignity of man, be that affection wrought 
in him how it may. 

Adieu ! May the blessing of God be upon you all ! 
It is your mother's heart's wish and mine. Yours ever, 

W. C. 

P.S. You had hardly reached Emberton when 
Mr. Teedon came to charge us with his thanks to 
Miss Unwin for her goodness to him ; the poor man 
looked so humble and grateful, that I forgave him all 
his past intrusions. I beseech you, therefore, that 



1785] TO THE REV. JOHN NEWTON 365 

you transmit his acknowledgments to his kind bene- 
factress. 



CXLIV 
To the Rev. John Newton. 

Sept. 24, 1785. 

MY DEAR FRIEND, 

I am sorry that an excursion, which you would other- 
wise have found so agreeable, was attended with so 
great a drawback upon its pleasures as Miss Cunning- 
ham's illness must needs have been. Had she been 
able to bathe in the sea, it might have been of service 
to her ; but I knew her weakness and delicacy of 
habit to be such as did not encourage any very 
sanguine hopes that the regimen would suit her. I 
remember Southampton well, having spent much time 
there ; but though I was young, and had no objections 
on the score of conscience either to dancing or cards, 
I never was in the assembly-room in my life. I never 
was fond of company, and especially disliked it in the 
country. A walk to Netley Abbey, or to Freemantle, 
or to Redbridge, or a book by the fire-side, had always 
more charms for me than any other amusement that 
the place afforded. I was also a sailor, and being of 
Sir Thomas Hesketh's party, who was himself born 
one, was often pressed into the service. But though 
I gave myself an air, and wore trowsers, I had no 
genuine right to that honour, disliking much to be 
occupied in great waters, unless in the finest weather. 



366 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1785 

How they contrive to elude the wearisomeness that 
attends a sea life, who take long voyages, you know 
better than I ; but for my own part, I seldom have 
sailed so far as from Hampton river to Portsmouth, 
without feeling the confinement irksome, and some- 
times to a degree that was almost insupportable. 
There is a certain perverseness, of which I believe all 
men have a share, but of which no man has a larger 
share than I ; I mean that temper, or humour, or 
whatever it is to be called, that indisposes us to a 
situation, though not unpleasant in itself, merely 
because we cannot get out of it I could not endure 
the room in which I now write, were I conscious that 
the door were locked. In less than five minutes I 
should feel myself a prisoner, though I can spend 
hours in it, under an assurance that I may leave it 
when I please, without experiencing any tedium at 
all. It was for this reason, I suppose, that the yacht 
was always disagreeable to me. Could I have stepped 
out of it into a corn-field or a garden, I should have 
liked it well enough ; but being surrounded with 
water, I was as much confined in it as if I had been 
surrounded by fire, and did not find that it made me 
any adequate compensation for such an abridgement 
of my liberty. I make little doubt but Noah was glad 
when he was enlarged from the ark ; and we are sure 
that Jonah was, when he came out of the fish ; and so 
was I to escape from the good sloop the Harriet. 

In my last, I wrote you word that Mr. Perry was 
given over by his friends, and pronounced a dead 



1785] TO THE REV. JOHN NEWTON 367 

man by his physician. Just when I had reached the 
end of the foregoing paragraph, he came in. His 
errand hither was to bring two letters, which I enclose ; 
one is to yourself, in which he will give you, I doubt 
not, such an account both of his body and mind, as 
will make all that I might say upon those subjects 
superfluous. The only consequences of his illness 
seem to be, that he looks a little pale, and that though 
always a most excellent man, he is still more angelic 
than he was. Illness sanctified is better than health. 
But I know a man who has been a sufferer by a worse 
illness than his, almost these fourteen years, and who 
at present is only the worse for it. 

Mr. Scott called upon us yesterday : he is much 
inclined to set up a Sunday School, if he can raise a 
fund for the purpose. Mr. Jones has had one some 
time at Clifton ; and Mr. Unwin writes me word that 
he has been thinking of nothing else day and night, 
for a fortnight. It is a wholesome measure, that seems 
to bid fair to be pretty generally adopted, and for the 
good effects that it promises, deserves well to be so. 
I know not, indeed, while the spread of the gospel 
continues so limited as it is, how a reformation of 
manners, in the lower class of mankind, can be brought 
to pass ; or by what other means the utter abolition of 
all principle among them, moral as well as religious, 
can possibly be prevented. Heathenish parents can 
only bring up heathenish children; an assertion no 
where oftener or more clearly illustrated than at 
Olney ; where children, seven years of age, infest the 



368 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1785 

streets every evening with curses and with songs, to 
which it would be unseemly to give their proper 
epithet. Such urchins as these could not be so diaboli- 
cally accomplished, unless by the connivance of their 
parents. It is well, indeed, if in some instances their 
parents be not themselves their instructors. Judging 
by their proficiency, one can hardly suppose any other. 
It is, therefore, doubtless an act of the greatest charity 
to snatch them out of such hands, before the inveteracy 
of the evil shall have made it desperate. Mr. Teedon, 
I should imagine, will be employed as a teacher, should 
this expedient be carried into effect. I know not, at 
least, that we have any other person among us so 
well qualified for the service. He is indisputably a 
Christian man, and miserably poor, whose revenues 
need improvement, as much as any children in the 
world can possibly need instruction. 

I understand that Mr. Jones is in London ; it is 
possible that you may have seen him, and if you have, 
are better acquainted with his present intentions 
respecting Lord Peterborough than myself. We saw 
him, not long since, when he talked of resigning his 
office immediately ; but I hear that he was afterwards 
otherwise advised, and repented of his purpose. I 
think it great pity that he did. A thing that a man 
had better never have touched cannot too soon be 
relinquished. While his principal kept himself at a 
distance, his connexion with him was less offensive ; 
but now to all who interest themselves in his conduct 
as a minister of the gospel, it is an offence indeed. 



1785] TO THE REV. JOHN NEWTON 369 

He seems aware of it, and we hope, therefore, will 
soon abandon it. 

Mrs. Unwin hopes that a hare, which she sent 
before Mrs. Newton went her journey, arrived safe. 
By this week's coach she also sent three fowls and a 
ham, with cabbages, of whose safe arrival she will 
likewise be glad to hear. She has long been troubled 
with a pain in her side, which we take to be of the 
spasmodic kind, but is otherwise well. She joins with 
me in love to yourself and Mrs. Newton, and to the 
young ladies ; neither do we forget Sally Johnson. 
Believe me, my dear friend, with true affection, yours, 

W. C. 

Hannah desires me to give her duty to Miss 
Cunningham and to Miss Catlett. 



CXLV 

To Lady Hesketh. 

Oct. 12, 1785. 
MY DEAR COUSIN, 

It is no new thing with you to give pleasure ; 
but I will venture to say, that you do not often give 
more than you gave me this morning. When I came 
down to breakfast, and found upon the table a letter 
franked by my uncle, and when opening that frank I 
found that it contained a letter from you, I said within 
myself "This is just as it should be. We are all 

VOL. I 2 B 



370 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1785 

grown young again, and the days that I thought I 
should see no more, are actually returned." You per- 
ceive, therefore, that you judged well when you con- 
jectured, that a line from you would not be disagreeable 
to me. It could not be otherwise than, as in fact it 
proved, a most agreeable surprise, for I can truly 
boast of an affection for you, that neither years, nor 
interrupted intercourse, have at all abated. I need 
only recollect how much I valued you once, and with 
how much cause, immediately to feel a revival of the 
same value : if that can be said to revive, which at 
the most has only been dormant for want of employ- 
ment, but I slander it when I say that it has slept. A 
thousand times have I recollected a thousand scenes, 
in which our two selves have formed the whole of the 
drama, with the greatest pleasure ; at times, too, when 
I had no reason to suppose that I should ever hear 
from you again. I have laughed with you at the 
Arabian Nights Entertainment, which afforded us, as 
you well know, a fund of merriment that deserves 
never to be forgot. I have walked with you to Netley 
Abbey, and have scrambled with you over hedges in 
every direction, and many other feats we have per- 
formed together, upon the field of my remembrance, 
and all within these few years. Should I say within 
this twelvemonth, I should not transgress the truth. 
The hours that I have spent with you were among 
the pleasantest of my former days, and are therefore 
chronicled in my mind so deeply, as to feel no erasure. 
Neither do I forget my poor friend, Sir Thomas. I 



1785] TO LADY HESKETH 371 

should remember him, indeed, at any rate, on account 
of his personal kindness to myself ; but the last testi- 
mony that he gave of his regard for you endears him 
to me still more. With his uncommon understanding 
(for with many peculiarities he had more sense than 
any of his acquaintance), and with his generous sensi- 
bilities, it was hardly possible that he should not dis- 
tinguish you as he has done. As it was the last, so 
it was the best proof, that he could give, of a judge- 
ment that never deceived him, when he would allow 
himself leisure to consult it. 

You say that you have often heard of me : that 
puzzles me. I cannot imagine from what quarter, but 
it is no matter. I must tell you, however, my cousin, 
that your information has been a little defective. That 
I am happy in my situation is true ; I live, and have 
lived these twenty years, with Mrs. Unwin, to whose 
affectionate care of me, during the far greater part of 
that time, it is, under Providence, owing that I live at 
all. But I do not account myself happy in having 
been for thirteen of those years in a state of mind 
that has made all that care and attention necessary ; 
an attention, and a care, that have injured her health, 
and which, had she not been uncommonly supported, 
must have brought her to the grave. But I will pass 
to another subject ; it would be cruel to particularize 
only to give pain, neither would I by any means give 
a sable hue to the first letter of a correspondence so 
unexpectedly renewed. 

I am delighted with what you tell me of my uncle's 



372 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1785 

good health. To enjoy any measure of cheerfulness 
at so late a day is much ; but to have that late day en- 
livened with the vivacity of youth, is much more, and 
in these postdiluvian times a rarity indeed. Happy, 
for the most part, are parents who have daughters. 
Daughters are not apt to outlive their natural affec- 
tions, which a son has generally survived, even before 
his boyish years are expired. I rejoice particularly in 
my uncle's felicity, who has three female descendants 
from his little person, who leave him nothing to wish 
for upon that head. 

My dear cousin, dejection of spirits, which, I sup- 
pose, may have prevented many a man from becoming 
an author, made me one. I find constant employment 
necessary, and therefore take care to be constantly 
employed. Manual occupations do not engage the 
mind sufficiently, as I know by experience, having 
tried many. But composition, especially of verse, 
absorbs it wholly. I write, therefore, generally three 
hours in a morning, and in an evening I transcribe. 
I read also, but less than I write, for I must have 
bodily exercise, and therefore never pass a day with- 
out it. 

You ask me where I have been this summer. I 
answer at Olney. Should you ask me where I spent 
the last seventeen summers, I should still answer, at 
Olney. Ay, and the winters also ; I have seldom left 
it, and except when I attended my brother in his last 
illness, never I believe a fortnight together. 

Adieu, my beloved cousin, I shall not always be 



1785! TO LADY HESKETH 373 

thus nimble in reply, but shall always have great 
pleasure in answering you when I can. Yours, my 
dear friend, and cousin, w 

W . \_x. 



CXLVI 
To the Rev. John Neivton. 

Nov. 5, 1785. 

MY DEAR FRIEND, 

Were it with me as in days past, you should have 
no cause to complain of my tardiness in writing. You 
supposed that I would have accepted your packet as 
an answer to my last ; and so indeed I did and felt 
myself overpaid, but though a debtor, and deeply 
indebted too, had not wherewithal to discharge the 
arrear. You do not know nor suspect what a con- 
quest I sometimes gain, when I only take up the pen 
with a design to write. Many a time have I resolved 
to say to all my few correspondents, " I take my leave 
of you for the present ; if I live to see better days, you 
shall hear from me again." I have been driven to 
the very verge of this measure ; and, even upon this 
occasion, was upon the point of desiring Mrs. Unwin 
to become my substitute. She, indeed, offered to write 
in my stead ; but fearing that you would understand 
me to be even worse than I am, I rather chose to 
answer for myself. So much for a subject with which 
I could easily fill the sheet, but with which I have 



374 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1785 

occupied too great a part of it already. It is time 
that I should thank you, and return you Mrs. Unwin's 
thanks for your Narrative. I told you, in my last, in 
what manner I felt myself affected by the abridgement 
of it contained in your letter ; and have therefore only 
to add, upon that point, that the impression made upon 
me by the relation at large was of a like kind. I envy 
all that live in the enjoyment of a good hope, and 
much more all who die to enjoy the fruit of it : but I 
recollect myself in time ; I resolved not to touch that 
chord again, and yet was just going to trespass upon 
my resolution. As to the rest, your history of your 
happy niece is just what it should be, clear, affec- 
tionate, and plain ; worthy of her, and worthy of your- 
self. How much more beneficial to the world might 
such a memorial of an unknown, but pious and be- 
lieving child, eventually prove, would the supercilious 
learned condescend to read it, than the history of all 
the kings and heroes that ever lived ! But the world 
has its objects of admiration, and God has objects of 
his love. Those make a noise and perish ; and these 
weep silently for a short season, and live for ever. I 
had rather have been your niece, or the writer of her 
story, than any Caesar that ever thundered. 

The vanity of human attainments was never so 
conspicuously exemplified as in the present day. The 
sagacious moderns make discoveries, which, how 
useful they may prove to themselves I know not ; 
certainly they do no honour to the ancients. Homer 
and Virgil have enjoyed, (if the dead have any such 



1785] TO THE REV. JOHN NEWTON 375 

enjoyments,) an unrivalled reputation as poets through 
a long succession of ages : but it is now shrewdly sus- 
pected that Homer did not compose the poems for 
which he has been so long applauded ; and it is even 
asserted by a certain Robert Heron, Esq. that Virgil 
never wrote a line worth reading. He is a pitiful 
plagiary; he is a servile imitator, a bungler in his 
plan, and has not a thought in his whole work that 
will bear examination. In short, he is any thing but 
what the literati for two thousand years have taken 
him to be a man of genius, and a fine writer. I fear 
that Homer's case is desperate. After the lapse of so 
many generations, it would be a difficult matter to elu- 
cidate a question which time and modern ingenuity 
together combine to puzzle. And I suppose that it 
were in vain for an honest plain man to enquire, " If 
Homer did not write the Iliad and the Odyssey , who 
did ? " The answer would undoubtedly be " It is no 
matter ; he did not : which is all that I undertook to 
prove." For Virgil, however, there still remains some 
consolation. The very same Mr. Heron, who finds no 
beauties in the ^neid t discovers not a single instance 
of the sublime in Scripture. Particularly, he says, 
speaking of the prophets, that Ezekiel, although the 
filthiest of all writers, is the best of them. He, there- 
fore, being the first of the learned who has reprobated 
even the style of the Scriptures, may possibly make the 
fewer proselytes to his judgement of a heathen writer. 
For my own part, at least, had I been accustomed to 
doubt whether the sEneid were a noble composition or 



376 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1785 

not, this gentleman would at once have decided the 
question for me ; and I should have been immediately 
assured, that a work must necessarily abound in 
beauties that had the happiness to displease a censurer 
of the Word of God. What enterprises will not an 
inordinate passion for fame suggest ? It prompted one 
man to fire the Temple of Ephesus ; another, to fling 
himself into a volcano; and now has induced this 
wicked and unfortunate squire either to deny his own 
feelings, or to publish to all the world that he has 
no feelings at all. 

This being the fifth of November, is the worst of 
all days in the year for letter-writing. Continually 
called upon to remember the bonfire, one is apt to 
forget every thing else. The boys at Olney have 
likewise a very entertaining sport, which commences 
annually upon this day : they call it Hockey ; and 
it consists in dashing each other with mud, and the 
windows also, so that I am forced to rise now and then, 
and to threaten them with a horsewhip, to preserve 
our own. We know that the Roman boys whipped 
tops, trundled the hoop, and played at tennis ; but I 
believe we nowhere read that they delighted in these 
filthy aspersions : I am inclined, therefore, to give to 
the slovenly but ingenious youths of Olney full credit 
for the invention. It will be well if the Sunday school 
may civilize them to a taste for more refined amuse- 
ments. That measure is so far in forwardness that a 
subscription is made : but it amounts, I am told, to no 
more than nineteen pounds : a feeble beginning, which, 



1785] TO THE REV. JOHN NEWTON 377 

as taxes are continually growing, promises no long 
duration. 

We have lost our noble neighbours : Lord Peter- 
borough and his lady are gone ; and gone to return no 
more. Mr. Throckmorton was so much displeased 
with his steward, Mr. Morley, for letting them his 
house, that he had almost dismissed him from his 
service. He is not likely, indeed, to keep it long : 
having made too free with spirituous liquors, his legs 
begin to swell, and he is going fast into a dropsy. 

Mr. Jones and Lord Peterborough have parted at 
last; and, after many bickerings, have parted upon 
amicable terms. Jones having delivered in an honest 
account refused to falsify it to the prejudice of his own 
reputation, and his master threatened him with a law- 
suit. But finding him inflexible, and not to be intimi- 
dated, he gave him his hand, treated him as a friend, 
and admitted him into his confidence. It is well for 
little folks that great folks are apt to be somewhat 
capricious; they would otherwise, perhaps, be at all 
times insolent and oppressive alike. 

Mr. Scott is pestered with anonymous letters, but 
he conducts himself wisely ; and the question whether 
he shall go to the Lock or not, seems hasting to a 
decision in the affirmative. 

We are tolerably well : and Mrs. Unwin adds to 
mine her affectionate remembrances of yourself and 
Mrs. Newton. Yours, my dear friend, -. p 



378 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1785 

CXLVII 

To Lady Hesketh. 

OLNEY, Nov. 9, 1785. 
MY DEAREST COUSIN, 

Whose last most affectionate letter has run in my 
head ever since I received it, and which I now sit 
down to answer two days sooner than the post will 
serve me ; I thank you for it, and with a warmth for 
which I am sure you will give me credit, though I 
do not spend many words in describing it. I do not 
seek new friends, not being altogether sure that I 
should find them, but have unspeakable pleasure in 
being still beloved by an old one. I hope that now 
our correspondence has suffered its last interruption, 
and that we shall go down together to the grave, 
chatting and chirping as merrily as such a scene of 
things as this will permit. 

I am happy that my poems have pleased you. My 
volume has afforded me no such pleasure at any time, 
either while I was writing it, or since its publication, 
as I have derived from yours and my uncle's opinion 
of it. I make certain allowances for partiality, and 
for that peculiar quickness of taste, with which you 
both relish what you like, and after all drawbacks 
upon those accounts duly made, find myself rich in 
the measure of your approbation that still remains. 
But above all, I honour John Gilpin, since it was he 
who first encouraged you to write. I made him on 



1785] TO LADY HESKETH 379 

purpose to laugh at, and he served his purpose well ; 
but I am now in debt to him for a more valuable 
acquisition than all the laughter in the world amounts 
to, the recovery of my intercourse with you, which is 
to me inestimable. My benevolent and generous 
cousin, when I was once asked if I wanted any thing, 
and given delicately to understand that the inquirer 
was ready to supply all my occasions, I thankfully and 
civilly, but positively, declined the favour. I neither 
suffer, nor have suffered, any such inconveniences as 
I had not much rather endure than come under obli- 
gations of that sort to a person comparatively with 
yourself a stranger to me. But to you I answer other- 
wise. I know you thoroughly, and the liberality of 
your disposition, and have that consummate con- 
fidence in the sincerity of your wish to serve me, 
that delivers me from all awkward constraint, and 
from all fear of trespassing by acceptance. To you, 
therefore, I reply, yes. Whensoever, and whatsoever, 
and in what manner-soever you please; and add 
moreover, that my affection for the giver is such as 
will increase to me tenfold the satisfaction that I shall 
have in receiving. It is necessary, however, that I 
should let you a little into the state of my finances, 
that you may not suppose them more narrowly 
circumscribed than they are. Since Mrs. Unwin 
and I have lived at Olney, we have had but one 
purse, although during the whole of that time, till 
lately, her income was nearly double mine. Her 
revenues indeed are now in some measure reduced, 



380 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1785 

and do not much exceed my own ; the worst conse- 
quence of this is, that we are forced to deny ourselves 
some things which hitherto we have been better able 
to afford, but they are such things as neither life, nor 
the well-being of life, depend upon. My own income 
has been better than it is, but when it was best, it 
would not have enabled me to live as my connexions 
demanded that I should, had it not been combined 
with a better than itself, at least at this end of the 
kingdom. Of this I had full proof during three 
months that I spent in lodgings at Huntingdon, in 
which time by the help of good management, and a 
clear notion of economical matters, I contrived to 
spend the income of a twelvemonth. Now, my be- 
loved cousin, you are in possession of the whole case 
as it stands. Strain no points to your own incon- 
venience or hurt, for there is no need of it, but indulge 
yourself in communicating (no matter what) that you 
can spare without missing it, since by so doing you 
will be sure to add to the comforts of my life one of 
the sweetest that I can enjoy a token and proof of 
your affection. 

I cannot believe but that I should know you, not- 
withstanding all that time may have done : there is 
not a feature of your face, could I meet it upon the 
road, by itself, that I should not instantly recollect. 
I should say, that is my cousin's nose, or those are 
her lips and her chin, and no woman upon earth can 
claim them but herself. As for me, I am a very 
smart youth of my years ; I am not indeed grown 



1785] TO LADY HESKETH 381 

gray so much as I am grown bald. No matter : there 
was more hair in the world than ever had the honour 
to belong to me ; accordingly having found just 
enough to curl a little at my ears, and to intermix 
with a little of my own, that still hangs behind, I 
appear, if you see me in an afternoon, to have a very 
decent head-dress, not easily distinguished from my 
natural growth, which being worn with a small bag, 
and a black riband about my neck, continues to me 
the charms of my youth, even on the verge of age. 
Away with the fear of writing too often ! -^ ^ 

P.S. That the view I give you of myself may be 
complete, I add the two following items That I am 
in debt to nobody, and that I grow fat. 



CXLVIII 

To Lady Hesketh. 

Nov. 30. 

MY DEAREST COUSIN, 

Your kindness reduces me to a necessity, (a pleasant 
one, indeed,) of writing all my letters in the same 
terms : always thanks, thanks at the beginning, and 
thanks at the end. It is, however, I say, a pleasant em- 
ployment when those thanks are indeed the language 
of the heart : and I can truly add, that there is no 
person on earth whom I thank with so much affection 
as yourself. You insisted that I should give you my 



382 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1785 

genuine opinion of the wine. By the way, it arrived 
without the least damage or fracture, and I finished 
the first bottle of it this very day. It is excellent, and 
though the wine which I had been used to drink was 
not bad, far preferable to that. The bottles will be in 
town on Saturday. I am enamoured of the desk and 
of its contents before I see them. They will be most 
entirely welcome. A few years since I made Mrs. 
Unwin a present of a snuff-box a silver one ; the 
purchase was made in London by a friend ; it is of a 
size and form that make it more fit for masculine than 
feminine use. She therefore with pleasure accepts the 
box which you have sent, I should say with the 
greatest pleasure. And I, discarding the leathern 
trunk that I have used so long, shall succeed to the 
possession of hers. She says, Tell Lady Hesketh that 
I truly love and honour her. Now, my cousin, you 
may depend upon it, as a most certain truth, that these 
words from her lips are not an empty sound. I never 
in my life heard her profess a regard for any one that 
she felt not. She is not addicted to the use of such 
language upon ordinary occasions; but when she 
speaks it, speaks from the heart. She has baited me 
this many a day, even as a bear is baited, to send 
for Dr. Kerr. But, as I hinted to you upon a former 
occasion, I am as muleish as most men are, and have 
hitherto most gallantly refused; but what is to be 
done now? If it were uncivil not to comply with the 
solicitations of one lady, to be unmoved by the solici- 
tations of two would prove me to be a bear indeed. 



1785] TO LADY HESKETH 383 

I will, therefore, summon him to consideration of said 
stomach, and its ailments, without delay, and you shall 
know the result. I have read Goldsmith's Traveller 
and his Deserted Village, and am highly pleased with 
them both, as well for the manner in which they are 
executed, as for their tendency, and the lessons that 
they inculcate. 

Mrs. Unwin said to me a few nights since, after 
supper, " I have two fine fowls in feeding, and just fit 
for use ; I wonder whether I should send them to 
Lady Hesketh ? " I replied, Yes, by all means ! and I 
will tell you a story that will at once convince you of 
the propriety of doing so. My brother was curate on 
a time to Mr. Fawkes, of Orpington, in Kent : it was 
when I lived in the Temple. One morning, as I was 
reading by the fireside, I heard a prodigious lumbering 
at the door. I opened it, and beheld a most rural 
figure, with very dirty boots, and a great coat as dirty. 
Supposing that my great fame as a barrister had drawn 
unto me a client from some remote region, I desired 
him to walk in. He did so, and introduced himself to 
my acquaintance by telling me that he was the farmer 
with whom my brother lodged at Orpington. After 
this preliminary information he unbuttoned his great 
coat, and I observed a quantity of long feathers pro- 
jected from an inside pocket. He thrust in his hand, 
and with great difficulty extracted a great fat capon. 
He then proceeded to lighten the other side of him, 
by dragging out just such another, and begged my 
acceptance of both. I sent them to a tavern, where 



384 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1785 

they were dressed, and I with two or three friends, 
whom I invited to the feast, found them incomparably 
better than any fowls that we had ever tasted from the 
London coops. Now, said I to Mrs. Unwin, it is 
likely that the fowls at Olney may be as good as the 
fowls at Orpington, therefore send them ; for it is 
not possible to make so good a use of them in any 
other way. 

My dear, I have another story to tell you, but of a 
different kind. At Westminster School I was much 
intimate with Walter Bagot, a brother of Lord Bagot. 
In the course, as I suppose, of more than twenty years 
after we left school, I saw him but twice ; once when 
I called on him at Oxford, and once when he called 
on me in the Temple. He has a brother who lives 
about four miles from hence, a man of large estate. It 
happened that soon after the publication of my first 
volume, he came into this country on a visit to his 
brother. Having read my book, and liking it, he took 
that opportunity to renew his acquaintance with me. 
I felt much affection for him, and the more because it 
was plain that after so long a time he still retained his 
for me. He is now at his brother's ; twice has he 
visited me in the course of the last week, and this 
morning he brought Mrs. Bagot with him. He is a 
good and amiable man, and she a most agreeable 
woman. At this second visit I made him acquainted 
with my translation of Homer : he was highly pleased 
to find me so occupied, and with all that glow of 
friendship that would make it criminal in me to doubt 



1785] TO LADY HESKETH 385 

his sincerity for a moment, insisted upon being em- 
ployed in promoting the subscription, and engaged 
himself and all his connexions, which are extensive, 
and many of them of high rank, in my service. His 
chariot put up at an inn in the town while he was 
here, and I rather wondered that at his departure he 
chose to walk to his chariot, and not to be taken up 
at the door; but when he had been gone about a 
quarter of an hour his servant came with a letter his 
master had written at the inn, and which, he said, 
required no answer. I opened it, and found as 
follows : 

OLNEY, Nov. 30, 1785. 
MY GOOD FRIEND, 

You will oblige me by accepting this early subscrip- 
tion to your Homer, even before you have fixed your 
plan and price ; which when you have done, if you will 
send me a parcel of your subscription papers, I will 
endeavour to circulate them among my friends and 
acquaintance as far as I can. Health and happiness 
attend you.-Yours ever, WALTR 



N.B. It contained a draft for twenty pounds. 

My dearest cousin, for whom I feel more than I can 
say, I once more thank you for all ; which reminds me 
by the way of thanking you in particular for your offer 
of oysters. I am very fond of them, and few things 
agree better with me, when they are stewed without 
butter. You may perceive that I improve upon your 
hands, and grow less and less coy in the matter of 
acceptance continually. 
VOL. i 2 c 



386 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1785 

In a letter of Mr. Unwin's to his mother he says 
thus : "I have been gratified to-day by the high 
character given of my friend's poem in The Critical 
Review" So far, therefore, I have passed the pikes. 
The Monthly Critics have not yet noticed me. 

Adieu ! my faithful, kind, and consolatory friend ! 

Ever, ever yours, 

' WM. COWPER. 



CXLIX 

To the Rev. John Newton. 

Dec. 3, 1785. 

MY DEAR FRIEND, 

I am glad to hear there is such a demand for 
your last Narrative. If I may judge of their general 
utility by the effect that they have heretofore had 
upon me, there are few things more edifying than 
death -bed memoirs. They interest every reader, 
because they speak of a period at which all must 
arrive, and afford a solid ground of encouragement to 
survivors to expect the same, or similar support and 
comfort, when it shall be their turn to die. 

I also am employed in writing narrative, but not so 
useful. Employment, however, and with the pen, is, 
through habit, become essential to my well-being; 
and to produce always original poems, especially of 
considerable length, is not so easy. For some weeks 
after I had finished The Task, and sent away the last 
sheet corrected, I was through necessity idle, and 



1785] TO THE REV. JOHN NEWTON 387 

suffered not a little in my spirits for being so. One 
day, being in such distress of mind as was hardly 
supportable, I took up the Iliad; and merely to divert 
attention, and with no more preconception of what I 
was then entering upon, than I have at this moment 
of what I shall be doing this day twenty years hence, 
translated the twelve first lines of it. The same 
necessity pressing me again, I had recourse to the 
same expedient, and translated more. Every day 
bringing its occasion for employment with it, every day 
consequently added something to the work ; till at last 
I began to reflect thus : The Iliad and the Odyssey 
together consists of about forty thousand verses. To 
translate these forty thousand verses will furnish me 
with occupation for a considerable time. I have 
already made some progress, and I find it a most 
agreeable amusement. Homer, in point of purity, is 
a most blameless writer ; and, though he was not an 
enlightened man, has interspersed many great and 
valuable truths throughout both his poems. In short, 
he is in all respects a most venerable old gentleman, 
by an acquaintance with whom no man can disgrace 
himself. The literati are all agreed to a man, that, 
although Pope has given us two pretty poems under 
Homer's titles, there is not to be found in them the 
least portion of Homer's spirit, nor the least resem- 
blance of his manner. I will try, therefore, whether 
I cannot copy him somewhat more happily myself. I 
have at least the advantage of Pope's faults and 
failings, which, like so many buoys upon a dangerous 



388 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1785 

coast, will serve me to steer by, and will make my 
chance for success more probable. These and many 
other considerations, but especially a mind that 
abhorred a vacuum as its chief bane, impelled me so 
effectually to the work, that ere long I mean to publish 
proposals for a subscription to it, having advanced 
so far as to be warranted in doing so. I have con- 
nexions, and no few such, by means of which I have 
the utmost reason to expect that a brisk circulation 
may be procured ; and if it should prove a profitable 
enterprise, the profit will not accrue to a man who may 
be said not to want it. It is a business such as it will 
not, indeed, lie much in your way to promote ; but, 
among your numerous connexions, it is possible that 
you may know some who would sufficiently interest 
themselves in such a work to be not unwilling to 
subscribe to it. I do not mean far be it from me 
to put you upon making hazardous applications, where 
you might possibly incur a refusal, that would give 
you though but a moment's pain. You know best 
your own opportunities and powers in such a cause. 
If you can do but little, I shall esteem it much ; and 
if you can do nothing, I am sure that it will not be 
for want of a will. 

I have lately had three visits from my old school- 
fellow Mr. Bagot, a brother of Lord Bagot, and of 
Mr. Chester of Chicheley. At his last visit he 
brought his wife with him, a most amiable woman, to 
see Mrs. Unwin. I told him my purpose, and my 
progress. He received the news with great pleasure ; 



1785] TO THE REV. JOHN NEWTON 389 

immediately subscribed a draft of twenty pounds ; and 
promised me his whole heart, and his whole interest, 
which lies principally among people of the first 
fashion. 

My correspondence has lately also been renewed 
with my dear cousin Lady Hesketh, whom I ever 
loved as a sister, (for we were in a manner brought up 
together,) and who writes to me as affectionately as if 
she were so. She also enters into my views and 
interests upon this occasion with a warmth that gives 
me great encouragement. The circle of her acquaint- 
ance is likewise very extensive ; and I have no doubt 
that she will exert her influence to its utmost possi- 
bilities among them. I have other strings to my 
bow, (perhaps, as a translator of Homer, I should 
say, to my lyre,) which I cannot here enumerate ; but, 
upon the whole, my prospect seems promising enough. 
I have not yet consulted Johnson upon the occasion, 
but intend to do it soon. 

My spirits are somewhat better than they were. In 
the course of the last month, I have perceived a very 
sensible amendment. The hope of better days seems 
again to dawn upon me ; and I have now and then an 
intimation, though slight and transient, that God has 
not abandoned me for ever. 

We have paid Nat. Gee his interest, and I enclose 
his acknowledgement. His last, was so effectually 
mislaid that we have never found it. Mrs. Unwin, 
who sends her love, begs that you will pay out of that 
sum, for the newspapers, and remit, if you can think 



390 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1785 

of it, the few shillings that will remain, by the first 
that shall call upon you in his way to Olney. She is 
sorry that she forgot the greens. 

This last paragraph must be considered as in a 
parenthesis, for I am going back to the subject of the 
preceding, viz. myself. Having been for some years 
troubled with an inconvenient stomach ; and lately, 
with a stomach that will digest nothing without help ; 
and we having reached the bottom of our own medical 
skill, into which we have dived to little or no purpose ; 
I have at length consented to consult Dr. Kerr, and 
expect to see him in a day or two. Engaged as I am, 
and am likely to be, so long as I am capable of it, in 
writing for the press, I cannot well afford to entertain 
a malady that is such an enemy to all mental opera- 
tions. 

The morning is beautiful, and tempts me forth into 
the garden. It is all the walk that I can have at this 
season, but not all the exercise. I ring a peal every 
day upon the dumb-bells. I am, my dear friend, 

most truly, yours and Mrs. Newton's, 

w . \^ 



CL 
To Lady Hesketh. 

OLNEY, Dec. 6, 1785. 
MY DEAREST COUSIN, 

I write not upon my desk, but about it. Having in 



1785] TO LADY HESKETH 391 

vain expected it by the waggon that followed your 
letter, I again expected it by the next ; and thinking 
it likely that it might arrive last night at Sherrington, 
I sent a man over thither this morning, hoping to see 
him return with it ; but again I am disappointed. I 
have felt an impatience to receive it that you yourself 
have taught me, and now think it necessary to let you 
know that it is not come, lest it should perhaps be 
detained in London, by the negligence of somebody 
to whom you might entrust the packing of it, or its 
carriage to the inn. 

I shall be obliged to be more concise than I choose 
to be when I write to you, for want of time to indulge 
myself in writing more. How, will you say, can a 
man want time, who lives in the country, without 
business, and without neighbours, who visits nobody, 
and who is visited himself so seldom 1 ? My dear, I 
have been at the races this morning, and have another 
letter to write this evening ; the post sets out at seven, 
and it is now drawing near to six. A fine day, you 
will say, for the races, and the better, no doubt, 
because it has rained continually ever since the 
morning. At what races do you suppose that I have 
been ? I might leave you to guess, but loving you 
too well to leave you under the burthen of an employ- 
ment that must prove for ever vain, I will even tell 
you, and keep you no longer in suspense. I have 
been at Troy, where the principal heroes of the Iliad 
have been running for such a prize as our jockeys 
would disdain to saddle a horse for ; and yet I assure 



392 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1785 

you they acquitted themselves most nobly, though a 
kettle and a frying-pan were to reward their labours. 

I never answered your question concerning my 
strong partiality to a common. I well remember 
making the speech of which you remind me, and the 
very place where I made it was upon a common, in 
the neighbourhood of Southampton, the name of 
which, however, I have forgot. But I perfectly re- 
collect that I boasted of the sagacity that you mention 
just after having carried you over a dirty part of 
the road that led to it. My nostrils have hardly been 
regaled with those wild odours from that day to the 
present. We have no such here. If there ever were 
any such in this country, the enclosures have long since 
destroyed them ; but we have a scent in the fields 
about Olney, that to me is equally agreeable, and 
which, even after attentive examination, I have never 
been able to account for. It proceeds, so far as I can 
find, neither from herb, nor tree, nor shrub : I should 
suppose therefore that it is in the soil. It is exactly 
the scent of amber when it has been rubbed hard, only 
more potent. I have never observed it except in hot 
weather, or in places where the sun shines powerfully, 
and from which the air is excluded. I had a strong 
poetical desire to describe it when I was writing the 
Common-scene in The Task, but feared lest the un- 
frequency of such a singular property in the earth, 
should have tempted the reader to ascribe it to a 
fanciful nose, at least to have suspected it for a 
deliberate fiction 



1785] TO LADY HESKETH 393 

I have been as good as my word, and have sent for 
the doctor ; but having left him the whole week to 
choose out of, am uncertain on what day I shall fall 
under his consideration. I have been in his company. 
He is quite a gentleman, and a very sensible one ; 
and as to skill in his profession, I suppose that he has 
few superiors. 

Mrs. Unwin, (who begs to be mentioned to you 
with affectionate respect,) sits knitting my stockings 
at my elbow, with a degree of industry worthy of 
Penelope herself. You will not think this an ex- 
aggeration when I tell you that I have not bought 
a pair these twenty years, either of thread, silk, or 
worsted. 

Adieu, my most beloved cousin ; if you get this 
before I have an answer to my last, let me soon have 
an answer to them both. Truly yours, 

WM. COWPER. 



CLI 

To Lady Hesketh. 

Dec. 7. 

MY DEAR COUSIN, 

At this time last night I was writing to you, and now 
I am writing to you again. Had our correspondence 
been renewed a year ago, it is possible that, having 
found a more agreeable employment, it might never 
have occurred to me to translate Homer for my 



394 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1785 

amusement. I have no doubt that my friend Bagot 
will do his utmost to circulate my proposals. There is 
a warmth in his manner, and he takes an interest in the 
success of my enterprise that leaves me without excuse 
if I should doubt it. But his sphere of influence and 
yours are entirely distinct. He will recommend 
me to the men, and you, I suppose, principally to 
the ladies. The literati will probably have some 
curiosity to see in what manner I have conducted an 
attempt in which Pope went before me ; but after all, 
a translation of Homer must be chiefly a lady's book. 
It just presents itself to me to ask if Mr. Arnott, 
whose name I have not heard these many years, 
except from my own lips, be of your connexions ? He, 
I should suppose, has pretty extensive ones himself, 
and for certain reasons would not unwillingly con- 
tribute what he could to the furtherance of a work 
undertaken by a man who bears my name. But all 
these matters I leave entirely to your discretion, as 
secure both of that and your zeal to serve me, as jf I 
were at your side throughout all the business. By 
the way, a neighbour of ours being this day at 
Newport, saw a letter addressed to me in the window 
of the inn, and delivered it to me while I was at dinner. 
It proved to be a letter from Mr. Bagot, which he had 
left there in his way home, in hope that it would find 
a bearer. It is conceived in terms altogether worthy 
of the friendship that he professes for me, and con- 
tains a fresh assurance of his exertions in my favour 
as soon as I shall have sent him my proposals. He 



1785] TO LADY HESKETH 395 

is a man of taste and of learning, and sees as plainly 
as I that there is a fair opening for such a work. My 
intention is to write to Johnson, my publisher, in the 
course of a few days, in order to settle with him the 
necessary preliminaries ; which done, I shall order 
him to put the Proposals to the press immediately. 
The season is favourable, London is full, or will be 
so by the time when they shall be ready, which will 
hardly be till after the holidays, and by that time, 
if nothing hinders, I shall have finished the Iliad. I 
shall then revise it carefully, comparing it all the way 
with the original, and shall have given it the last 
hand probably by the month of March. It is likewise 
probable that by the month of March we shall have 
felt our ground a little, and be able to form a reason- 
able judgement how far the subscription will be likely 
to fill. For so expensive a business must not be finally 
determined upon till that be known. If the subscrip- 
tion should fail of the needful amount, I am but where 
I was, and shall have nothing to do but to return the 
money, and to comfort myself with reflecting that I 
have not thrown away another year in translating the 
Odyssey also. But though not naturally addicted to 
much rashness in making conclusions favourable to 
myself, I have a certain lightness of heart upon the 
subject, that encourages me to hope for, and to expect 
a very different event. 

My dear, you say not a word about the desk in 
your last, which I received this morning. I infer 
from your silence that you supposed it either at Olney 



396 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1785 

or on its way thither, and that you expected nothing 
so much as that my next would inform you of its safe 
arrival ; therefore, where can it possibly be ? I am 
not absolutely in despair about it, for the reasons that 
I mentioned last night ; but to say the truth, I stand 
tottering upon the verge of it. I write, and have 
written these many years, upon a book of maps, which 
I now begin to find too low and too flat, though till I 
expected a better desk, I found no fault with them. 
See and observe how true it is, that by increasing the 
number of our conveniencies, we multiply our wants 
exactly in the same proportion ! neither can I at all 
doubt that if you were to tell me that all the men in 
London of any fashion at all, wore black velvet shoes 
with white roses, and should also tell me that you 
would send me such, I should dance with impatience 
till they arrived. Not because I care one farthing of 
what materials my shoes are made, but because any 
shoes of your sending would interest me from head to 
foot 

I have never had the pleasure to see Mr. Jekyll, 
and probably never shall. I have been repeatedly at 
Gayhurst ; but we went only to amuse ourselves with 
a walk in the pleasure-grounds when the family were 
out. I was last year in company with Mrs. Wright. 
We met at Mr. Throckmorton's, and were both highly 
pleased with her ; but Mr. Wright himself is such a 
keen sportsman that he would doubtless find me a 
most insipid animal, who have not the least relish of 
what he admires so much. For the same reason as 



1785] TO LADY HESKETH 397 

well as for some others, I have never had a connexion 
in the visiting way with any other of the gentlemen in 
the country. With Mr. Throckmorton indeed I had 
liked to have formed acquaintance last year, but he 
left the country soon after we began to know each 
other, and is in general so little at home that I have 
no room left to suppose I shall ever know him 
better. 

Mrs. Unwin, my dearest cousin, is overgoved, (you 
remember that word,) that the pullen, (you remember 
that also,) proved so good. She begs me also to say 
how sensible she is of your kind offer to execute any 
of her commissions in town j but to say how sensible 
she is of it, would take up more room than I can spare 
at present, for which reason I decline it. I allot the 
rest of my paper to Dr. Kerr, whom I shall expect to 
see to-morrow, or shall conclude that my letter has 
not reached him. Good night, therefore, my dear ! I 
will fill up the little space that remains when I shall 
either have to tell you that I have seen him, or must 
write to him again. I am on the same account obliged 
to postpone my answer to certain passages in your last, 
to another opportunity. 

Thursday evening. 

Oh that this letter had wings, that it might fly to 
tell you that my desk, the most elegant, the com- 
pactest, the most commodious desk in the world, and 
of all the desks that ever were or ever shall be, the 
desk that I love the most, is safe arrived. Nay, my 
dear, it was actually at Sherrington, when the waggoner's 



398 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1785 

wife, (for the man himself was not at home,^ croaked 
out her abominable No! yet she examined the bill 
of lading, but either did it so carelessly, or as poor 
Dick Madan used to say, with such an ignorant eye, 
that my name escaped her. My precious cousin, 
you have bestowed too much upon me. I have nothing 
to render you in return, but the affectionate feelings 
of a heart most truly sensible of your kindness. How 
pleasant it is to write upon such a green bank ! I am 
sorry that I have so nearly reached the end of my 
paper. I have now however only room to say that 
Mrs. Unwin is delighted with her box, and bids me do 
more than thank you for it. What can I do more at 
this distance but say that she loves you heartily, and 
that so do I ? The pocket-book is also the completest 
that I ever saw, and the watch-chain the most 
brilliant. 

Adieu for a little while. Now for Homer. My 
dear, yours, WM Q 

N.B. I generally write the day before the post 
sets out, which is the thing that puzzles you. I do it 
that I may secure time for the purpose, and may not 
be hurried. On this very day twenty-two years ago 
left I London. 



1785] TO THE REV. JOHN NEWTON 399 

CLII 

To the Rev. John Newton. 

Dec. 10, 1785. 

MY DEAR FRIEND, 

What you say of my last volume gives me the 
sincerest pleasure. I have heard a like favourable 
report of it from several different quarters, but never 
any (for obvious reasons) that has gratified me more 
than yours. I have a relish for moderate praise, 
because it bids fair to be judicious ; but praise 

excessive, such as our poor friend 's, (I have an 

uncle also who celebrates me exactly in the same 
language;) such praise is rather too big for an 
ordinary swallow. I set down nine-tenths of it to 
the account of family partiality. I know no more than 
you what kind of a market my book has found ; but 
this I believe, that had not Henderson died, and had 
it been worth my while to have given him a hundred 
pounds to have read it in public, it would have been 
more popular than it is. I am at least very un- 
willing to esteem John Gilpin as better worth than all 
the rest that I have written, and he has been popular 
enough. 

Your sentiments of Pope's Homer agree perfectly 
with those of every competent judge with whom I have 
at any time conversed about it. I never saw a copy 
so unlike the original. There is not, I believe, in all 
the world to be found an uninspired poem so simple as 



400 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1785 

those of Homer ; nor in all the world a poem more 
bedizened with ornaments than Pope's translation of 
them. Accordingly, the sublime of Homer in the 
hands of Pope becomes bloated and tumid, and his 
description tawdry. Neither had Pope the faintest 
conception of those exquisite discriminations of 
character for which Homer is so remarkable All 
his persons, "and equally upon all occasions, speak in 
an inflated and strutting phraseology, as Pope has 
managed them ; although in the original, the dignity 
of their utterance, even when they are most majestic, 
consists principally in the simplicity of their sentiments 
and of their language. Another censure I must needs 
pass upon our Anglo -Grecian, out of many that 
obtrude themselves upon me, but for which I have 
neither time to spare, nor room ; which is, that with 
all his great abilities he was defective in his feelings 
to a degree that some passages in his own poems make 
it difficult to account for. No writer more pathetic 
than Homer, because none more natural ; and because 
none less natural than Pope in his version of Homer, 
therefore than he none less pathetic. But I shall tire 
you with a theme with which I would not wish to cloy 
you beforehand. 

If the great change in my experience, of which you 
express so lively an expectation, should take place, and 
whenever it shall take place, you may securely depend 
upon receiving the first notice of it. But whether you 
come with congratulations, or whether without them, I 
need not say that you and yours will always be most 



1785] TO THE REV. JOHN NEWTON 401 

welcome here. Mrs. Unwin's love both to yourself 
and to Mrs. Newton joins itself as usual, and as warmly 
as usual, to that of yours, my dear friend, affectionately 

and faithfully, 

WM. COWPER. 

The following this moment occurs to me as a 
possible motto for the Messiah, if you do not think it 
too sharp : 

Nunquam inducunt animum cant are, rogati ; 

Injussi, nunquam desistunt. 



CLIII 

To Lady Hesketh. 

Thursday, Dec. 15, 1785. 

DEAREST COUSIN, 

My desk is always pleasant, but never so pleasant as 
when I am writing to you. If I am not obliged to 
you for the thing itself, at least I am for your having 
decided the matter against me, and resolving that it 
should come in spite of all my objections. Before it 
arrived, Mrs. Unwin had spied out for it a place that 
exactly suits it. A certain fly -table in the corner 
of the room, which I had overlooked, affords it a 
convenient stand when it is not wanted, and it is easily 
transferred to a larger when it is. If I must not know 
to whom I am principally indebted for it, at least let 
me entreat you to make my acknowledgements of 
gratitude and love. As to my frequent use of it, I 

VOL. I 2 D 



402 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1785 

will tell you how that matter stands. When I was 
writing my first volume, and was but just beginning to 
emerge from a state of melancholy that had continued 
some years, (from which, by the way, I do not account 
myself even now delivered,) Mrs. Unwin insisted on 
my relinquishing the pen, apprehending consequences 
injurious to my health. When ladies insist, you know, 
there is an end of the business ; obedience on our 
part becomes necessary. I accordingly obeyed, but 
having lost my fiddle, I became pensive and unhappy ; 
she therefore restored it to me, convinced of its utility, 
and from that day to this I have never ceased to 
scrape. Observe, however, my dear, that I scrape not 
always. My task that I assign myself is to translate 
forty lines a day ; if they pass off easily I sometimes 
make them fifty, but never abate any part of the 
allotted number. Perhaps I am occupied an hour and 
a half, perhaps three hours ; but generally between 
two and three. This, you see, is labour that can hurt 
no man ; and what I have translated in the morning, 
in the evening I transcribe. 

Imagine not that I am so inhuman as to send you 
into the field with no coadjutor but Mr. Bagot. He 
is indeed one of my great dependencies, but I have 
others, and not inconsiderable ones besides. Mr. 
Unwin is of course hearty in my cause, and he has 
several important connexions. I have, by his means 
originally, an acquaintance, though by letters only, 
with Mr. Smith, member for Nottingham. My whole 
intercourse with my bookseller has hitherto been 



1785] TO LADY HESKETH 403 

carried on through the medium of his parliamentary 
privilege. He is pleased to speak very handsomely 
of my books, and, I doubt not, will assist my subscrip- 
tion with ardour. John Thornton the great, who 
together with his three sons, all three in parliament, 
has, I suppose, a larger sweep in the city than any 
man, will, I have reason to hope, be equally zealous 
in my favour. Mr. Newton, who has a large influ- 
ence in that quarter also, will, I know, serve me like 
a brother. I have also exchanged some letters with 
Mr. Bacon, the statuary, whose connexions must 
needs be extensive, and who, if I may judge from the 
sentiments that he expresses towards me, will not be 
backward in my service. Neither have I any doubt 
but that I can engage Lord Dartmouth. These, my 
dearest cousin, except the last, (and I mention it for 
your greater comfort,) are all, to a man, Pittites. 
Mr. Smith, in particular, is one of the minister's most 
intimate friends, and was with him when the turnpike- 
man had like to have spoiled him for a premier for 
ever. All this I have said by way of clapping you on 
the back, not wondering that your poor heart ached 
at the idea of being almost a solitary Lady Errant on 
the occasion. 

With respect to the enterprise itself, there are 
certain points of delicacy that will not suffer me to 
make a public justification of it. It would ill become 
me avowedly to point out the faults of Pope in a 
preface, and would be as impolitic as indecent. But 
to you, my dear, I can utter my mind freely. Let me 



404 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1785 

premise, however, that you answered the gentleman's 
inquiry, whether in blank verse or not, to a marvel. 
It is even so : and let some critics say what they will, 
I aver it, and will for ever aver it, that to give a just 
representation of Homer in rhyme, is a natural im- 
possibility. Now for Pope himself : I will allow his 
whole merit. He has written a great deal of very 
musical and sweet verse in his translation of Homer, 
but his verse is not universally such ; on the contrary, 
it is often lame, feeble, and flat. He has, besides, 
occasionally a felicity of expression peculiar to himself ; 
but it is a felicity purely modern, and has nothing to 
do with Homer. Except the Bible, there never was 
in the world a book so remarkable for that species of 
the sublime that owes its very existence to simplicity, 
as the works of Homer. He is always nervous, plain, 
natural. I refer you to your own knowledge of his 
copyist for a decision upon Pope's merits in these 
particulars. The garden in all the gaiety of June 
is less flowery than his Translation. Metaphors of 
which Homer never dreamt, which he did not seek, 
and which probably he would have disdained if he 
had found, follow each other in quick succession like 
the sliding pictures in a show box. Homer is, on 
occasions that call for such a style, the easiest and 
most familiar of all writers : a circumstance that escaped 
Pope entirely, who takes most religious care that he 
shall every where strut in buckram. The speeches 
of his heroes are often animated to a degree that Pope 
no doubt accounted unmannerly and rude, for he has 



1785] TO LADY HESKETH 405 

reduced numbers of them that are of that character 
to the perfect standard of French good - breeding. 
Shakespeare himself did not excel Homer in dis- 
crimination of character, neither is he more attentive 
to exact consistence and preservation of it throughout. 
In Pope, to whatever cause it was owing, whether he 
did not see it, or seeing it, accounted it an affair of 
no moment, this great beauty is almost absolutely 
annihilated. In short, my dear, there is hardly any 
thing in the world so unlike another, as Pope's version 
of Homer to the original. Give me a great corking 
pin that I may stick your faith upon my sleeve. There 
it is done. Now assure yourself, upon the credit of 
a man who made Homer much his study in his youth, 
and who is perhaps better acquainted with Pope's 
translation of him than almost any man, having twenty- 
five years ago compared them with each other line by 
line throughout ; upon the credit of a man, too, who 
would not for the world deceive you in the smallest 
matter, that Pope never entered into the spirit of 
Homer, that he never translated him, I had almost said, 
did not understand him : many passages it is literally 
true that he did not. Why, when he first entered on 
his task, did he, (as he did, by his own confession,) for 
ever dream that he was wandering in unknown ways, 
that he was lost upon heaths and forests, and awoke in 
terror? I will tell you, my dear, his dreams were 
emblems of his waking experience; and I am mis- 
taken, if I could not go near to prove that at his first 
setting out, he knew very little of Greek, and was 



406 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1785 

never an adept in it, to the last. Therefore, my 
beloved cousin, once more take heart. I have a fair 
opportunity to acquire honour ; and if when I have 
finished the Iliad, I do not upon cool consideration 
think that I have secured it, I will burn the copy. 

A hundred things must go unanswered, but not the 
oysters unacknowledged, which are remarkably fine. 
Again I leave space for Kerr, not having seen him 
yet. I cannot go to him now, lest we should meet in 
the midway between. 

Saturday. 

I must now huddle up twenty matters in a corner. 
No Kerr yet : a report prevails in our town that he is 
very ill, and I am very sorry if he is. I were no 
better than a beast could I forget to thank you for an 
order of oysters through the season. I love you for 
all your kindnesses, and for this among the rest. I 
wrote lately to Johnson on the subject of Homer. He 
is a knowing man in his trade, and understands book- 
sellers' trap as well as any man. He wishes me not 
to publish by subscription, but to put my copy into 
his hands. He thinks he can make me such proposals 
as I shall like. I shall answer him to-day, and not 
depart from my purpose. But I consider his advice 
as a favourable omen. The last post brought me a 
very obliging letter from the abovesaid Mr. Smith. 
I shall answer it to-day, and shall make my intended 
application for his interest in behalf of my subscrip- 
tion. I always take care to have sufficient exercise 
every day. When the weather forbids walking, I 



1785] TO LADY HESKETH 407 

ring a thousand bob-majors upon the dumb-bells. 
You would be delighted to see the performance. 
Again, I say that I love you, and I do so in particular 
for the interest that you took in the success of the 
passages that you say were read in the evening party 
that you mention. I know the friendly warmth of 
your heart, and how valuable a thing it is to have a 
share in it. The hare was caught by a shepherd's- 
dog that had not the fear of the law before his eyes ; 
was transferred by the shepherd to the clerk of the 
parish, and by him presented to us. Mrs. Unwin is 
ever deeply sensible of your kind remembrances of 
her. Her son is sometimes in town, and if you 
permit him, will, I doubt not, rejoice to give a 
morning rap at your door, upon the first intimation 
of such permission from me, whenever opportunity 
shall offer. 

Now farewell, my dearest cousin, and deservedly 
my most beloved friend, farewell. With true affection 

' WM. COWPER. 



CLIV 

To the Rev. William Unwin. 

Dec. 31, 1785. 

MY DEAR WILLIAM 

You have learned from my last that I am now con- 
ducting myself upon the plan that you recommended 
to me in the summer. But since I wrote it, I have 



408 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1785 

made still farther advances in my negotiation with 
Johnson. The proposals are adjusted. The proof- 
sheet has been printed off, corrected, and returned. 
They will be sent abroad as soon as I can make up a 
complete list of the personages and persons to whom 
I would have them sent ; which in a few days I hope 
to be able to accomplish. Johnson behaves very well, 
at least according to my conception of the matter, and 
seems sensible that I have dealt liberally with him. 
He wishes me to be a gainer by my labours, in his 
own words, "to put something handsome in my 
pocket," and recommends two large quartos for the 
whole. He would not (he says) by any means advise 
an extravagant price, and has fixed it at three guineas ; 
the half, as usual, to be paid at the time of subscribing, 
the remainder on delivery. Five hundred names (he 
adds) at this price will put above a thousand pounds 
into my purse. I am doing my best to obtain them. 
I have written, I think, to all my quondam friends, 
except those that are dead, requiring their assistance. 
I have gulped and swallowed, and I have written to 
the Chancellor, and I have written to Colman. I now 
bring them both to a fair test. They can both serve 
me most materially if so disposed. Mr. Newton is 
warm in my service, and can do not a little. I have 
of course written to Mr. Bagot, who, when he was 
here, with much earnestness and affection entreated 
me so to do, as soon as I should have settled the 
conditions. If I could get Sir Richard Sutton's address, 
I would write to him also, though I have been but 



1785] TO THE REV. WILLIAM UNWIN 409 

once in his company since I left Westminster, where 
he and I read the Iliad and Odyssey through together. 
I enclose Lord Dartmouth's answer to my application, 
which I will get you to show to Lady Hesketh, because 
it will please her. I shall be glad if you can make an 
opportunity to call on her, during your present stay in 
town. You observe therefore that I am not wanting 
to myself; he that is so, has no just claim on the 
assistance of others, neither shall myself have any 
cause to complain of me in other respects. I thank you 
for your friendly hints, and precautions, and shall not 
fail to give them the guidance of my pen. I respect 
the public, and I respect myself, and had rather want 
bread than expose myself wantonly to the condemna- 
tion of either. I hate the affectation so frequently found 
in authors, of negligence and slovenly slightness ; and 
in the present case am sensible how especially neces- 
sary it is to shun them, when I undertake the vast and 
invidious labour of doing better than Pope has done 
before me. I thank you for all that you have said 
and done in my cause, and beforehand for all that 
you shall say and do hereafter. I am sure that there 
will be no deficiency on your part. In particular I 
thank you for taking such jealous care of my honour 
and respectability, when the Mann you mention 
applied for samples of my translation. When I deal in 
wine, cloth, or cheese, I will give samples, but of verse 
never. No consideration would have induced me to 
comply with the gentleman's demand, unless he could 
have assured me that his wife had longed. 



410 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1785 

I have frequently thought with pleasure of the 
summer that you have had in your heart, while you 
have been employed in softening the severity of winter 
in behalf of so many who must otherwise have been 
exposed to it. I wish that you could make a general 
gaol-delivery, leaving only those behind who cannot 
elsewhere be so properly disposed of. You never 
said a better thing in your life, than when you assured 
Mr. Smith of the expediency of a gift of bedding to 
the poor of Olney. There is no one article of this 
world's comforts, with which, as Falstaff says, they 
are so heinously unprovided. When a poor woman, 
and an honest one, whom we know well, carried home 
two pair of blankets, a pair for herself and husband, 
and a pair for her six children ; as soon as the children 
saw them, they jumped out of their straw, caught them 
in their arms, kissed them, blessed them, and danced 
for joy. An old woman, a very old one, the first 
night that she found herself so comfortably covered, 
could not sleep a wink, being kept awake by the 
contrary emotions, of transport on the one hand, 
and the fear of not being thankful enough on the 
other. 

It just occurs to me, to say, that this manuscript of 
mine will be ready for the press, as I hope, by the end 
of February. I shall have finished the Iliad in about 
ten days, and shall proceed immediately to the revisal 
of the whole. You must, if possible, come down to 
Olney, if it be only that you may take the charge of 
its safe delivery to Johnson. For if by any accident 



1786] TO THE REV. WILLIAM UNWIN 411 

it should be lost, I am undone, the first copy being 
but a lean counterpart of the second. 

Your mother joins with me in love and good wishes 
of every kind, to you, and all yours. Adieu, 

W. C. 



CLV 

To Lady Hesketh. 

OLNEY, 
Monday, Jan. 2, 1786. 

MY DEAREST COUSIN, 

Be under no concern about me or my stomach. 
The remedy is certainly a most detestable affair, but 
when taken early in the morning, and without slip-slops, 
is attended with less labour than could be supposed. 

If I did not know that you have a better taste than 
ninety-nine readers in a hundred, whether of your sex 
or ours, I should have less pleasure than I have in 
your approbation. One thing is to be considered, I 
did not always read Pope's translation with so critical 
an eye as lately; if, therefore, I spy blemishes that 
escape you, it is not to be ascribed to my better 
judgement, but to that closeness of attention that the 
occasion naturally inspires. I well remember when 
the lines which have charmed you so long, delighted 
me as much ; and had I not at last examined them 
by the light of Homer's lamp, their defects, to this 
moment, had been hidden from me ; such a fascinating 
command of language was Pope endued with. But 



412 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1786 

Homer's accuracy of description, and his exquisite 
judgement never, never failed him. He never, I 
believe, in a single instance sacrificed beauty to embel- 
lishment. He does not deal in hyperbole, (a figure so 
frequently occurring in his translator, that one would 
imagine it Homer's favourite one ;) accordingly, when 
he describes nature, whether in man or in animal, or 
whether nature inanimate, you may always trust him 
for the most consummate fidelity. It is his great 
glory that he omits no striking part of his subject, 
and that he never inserts a tittle that does not belong 
to it. Oh ! how unlike some describers that I have 
met with, of modern days, who smother you with 
words, words, words, and then think that they have 
copied nature; when all the while nature was an 
object either not looked at, or not sufficiently : as if a 
painter, having a beautiful woman to draw, should 
give you, indeed, something like the outline of her 
face, but should fill it up with all the colours of the 
rainbow. . . . Yours, my beloved cousin, with Mrs. 

Unwin's affectionate respects, 

WM. COWPER. 



CLVI 

To Lady Hesketh. 

Jan. 16, 1786. 
MY DEAREST COUSIN, 

I have sent, as I hope you have heard by this time, 
a specimen to my good friend the General. To tell 



1786] TO LADY HESKETH 413 

you the truth, I begin to be ashamed of myself that 
I had opposed him in the only two measures he recom- 
mended, and then assured him that I should be glad 
of his advice at all times. Having put myself under 
a course of strict self-examination upon this subject, I 
found at last that all the reluctance I had felt against 
a compliance with his wishes, proceeded from a 
principle of shame-facedness at bottom, that had in- 
sensibly influenced my reasonings, and determined me 
against the counsel of a man whom I knew to be 
wiser than myself. Wonderful as it may seem, my 
cousin, yet it is equally true, that although I certainly 
did translate the Iliad with a design to publish it when 
I had done, and although I have twice issued from 
the press already, yet I do tremble at the thought, 
and so tremble at it that I could not bear to send out 
a specimen, because, by doing so, I should appear in 
public a good deal sooner than I had purposed. Thus 
have I developed my whole heart to you, and if you 
should think it at all expedient, have not the least 
objection to your communicating to the General this 
interpretation of the matter. The specimen has 
suffered a little through my too great zeal of amend- 
ment ; in one instance, at least, it will be necessary to 
restore the original reading. And by the way I will 
observe that a scrupulous nicety is a dangerous thing. 
It often betrays a writer into a worse mistake than it 
corrects, sometimes makes a blemish where before 
there was none, and is almost always fatal to the 
spirit of the performance. 



414 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1786 

You do not ask me, my dear, for an explanation of 
what I could mean by anguish of mind, and by the 
perpetual interruptions that I mentioned. Because 
you do not ask, and because your reason for not 
asking consists of a delicacy and tenderness peculiar 
to yourself, for that very cause I will tell you. A wish 
so suppressed is more irresistible than many wishes 
plainly uttered. Know then that in the year 73 the 
same scene that was acted at St. Alban's, opened upon 
me again at Olney, only covered with a still deeper 
shade of melancholy, and ordained to be of much 
longer duration. I was suddenly reduced from my 
wonted rate of understanding to an almost childish 
imbecility. I did not indeed lose my senses, but I lost 
the power to exercise them. I could return a rational 
answer even to a difficult question, but a question was 
necessary, or I never spoke at all. This state of mind 
was accompanied, as I suppose it to be in most instances 
of the kind, with misapprehension of things and persons 
that made me a very untractable patient. I believed 
that every body hated me, and that Mrs. Unwin 
hated me most of all; was convinced that all my 
food was poisoned, together with ten thousand 
megrims of the same stamp. I would not be more 
circumstantial than is necessary. Dr. Cotton was 
consulted. He replied that he could do no more for 
me than might be done at Olney, but recommended 
particular vigilance, lest I should attempt my life : a 
caution for which there was the greatest occasion. At 
the same time that I was convinced of Mrs. Unwin's 



1786] TO LADY HESKETH 415 

aversion to me, I could endure no other companion. 
The whole management of me consequently devolved 
upon her, and a terrible task she had ; she performed 
it, however, with a cheerfulness hardly ever equalled 
on such an occasion ; and I have often heard her say, 
that if ever she praised God in her life it was when 
she found that she was to have all the labour. She 
performed it accordingly, but, as I hinted once before 
very much to the hurt of her own constitution. It 
will be thirteen years in little more than a week, since 
this malady seized me. Methinks I hear you ask, 
your affection for me will, I know, make you wish to do 
so, Is it removed ? I reply, in great measure, but not 
quite. Occasionally I am much distressed, but that 
distress becomes continually less frequent, and I think 
less violent. I find writing, and especially poetry, my 
best remedy. Perhaps had I understood music, I had 
never written verse, but had lived upon fiddle-strings 
instead. It is better however as it is. A poet may, 
if he pleases, be of a little use in the world, while a 
musician, the most skilful, can only divert himself and 
a few others. I have been emerging gradually from 
this pit. As soon as I became capable of action, I 
commenced carpenter, made cupboards, boxes, stools. 
I grew weary of this in about a twelvemonth, and 
addressed myself to the making of birdcages. To this 
employment succeeded that of gardening, which I 
intermingled with that of drawing, but finding that 
the latter occupation injured my eyes, I renounced it, 
and commenced poet. I have given you, my dear, a 



416 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1786 

little history in shorthand ; I know that it will touch 
your feelings, but do not let it interest them too much. 
In the year when I wrote the Task, (for it occupied 
me about a year,) / was very often most supremely 
unhappy, and am under God indebted in good part to 
that work for not having been much worse. You did 
not know what a clever fellow I am, and how I can 
turn my hand to any thing. 

I perceive that this time I shall make you pay 
double postage, and there is no help for it. Unless I 
write myself out now, I shall forget half of what I have 
to say. Now therefore for the interruptions at which 
I hinted. There came a lady into this country, by 
name and title Lady Austen, the widow of the late 
Sir Robert Austen. At first she lived with her sister, 
about a mile from Olney ; but in a few weeks took 
lodgings at the vicarage here. Between the vicarage 
and the back of our house are interposed our garden, 
an orchard, and the garden belonging to the vicarage. 
She had lived much in France, was very sensible, 
and had infinite vivacity. She took a great liking to 
us, and we to her. She had been used to a great deal 
of company, and we, fearing that she would find such a 
transition into silent retirement irksome, contrived to 
give her our agreeable company often. Becoming con- 
tinually more and more intimate, a practice obtained 
at length of our dining with each other alternately 
every day, Sundays excepted. In order to facilitate 
our communication, we made doors in the two garden- 
walls above-said, by which means we considerably 



1786] TO LADY HESKETH 417 

shortened the way from one house to the other, and 
could meet when we pleased without entering the town 
at all, a measure the rather expedient, because in winter 
the town is abominably dirty, and she kept no carriage. 
On her first settlement in our neighbourhood, I made 
it my particular business, (for at that time I was not 
employed in writing, having published my first volume, 
and not begun my second,) to pay my devoirs to her 
ladyship every morning at eleven. Customs very soon 
become laws. I began The Task> for she was the 
lady who gave me the Sofa for a subject. Being once 
engaged in the work, I began to feel the inconvenience 
of my morning attendance. We had seldom break- 
fasted ourselves till ten, and the intervening hour was 
all the time that I could find in the whole day for 
writing; and occasionally it would happen that the 
half of that hour was all that I could secure for the 
purpose. But there was no remedy : long usage had 
made that which at first was optional, a point of good 
manners, and consequently of necessity, and I was 
forced to neglect The Task to attend upon the Muse 
who had inspired the subject. But she had ill-health, 
and before I quite finished the work was obliged to 
repair to Bristol. Thus, as I told you, my dear, the 
cause of the many interruptions that I mentioned, was 
removed, and now, except the Bull that I spoke of, 
we have seldom any company at all. After all that I 
have said upon this matter, you will not completely 
understand me perhaps, unless I account for the 
remainder of the day. I will add therefore, that 

VOL. I 2 E 



418 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1786 

having paid my morning visit, I walked ; returning 
from my walk, I dressed; we then met and dined, 
and parted not till between ten and eleven at night. 

My cousin, I thank you for giving me a copy of the 
General's note, of which I and my publication were 
so much the subject. I learned from it better than I 
could have learned the same thing from any other 
document, the kindness of his purposes towards me, 
and how much I may depend on his assistance. I am 
vexed, and have been these three days, that I thwarted 
him in the affair of a specimen ; but as I told you, I 
have still my gloomy hours, which had their share, 
together with the more powerful cause assigned above, 
in determining my behaviour. But I have given the 
best proof possible of my repentance, and was indeed 
in such haste to evince it, that I sent my despatches 
to Newport, on purpose to catch the by-post. How 
much I love you for the generosity of that offer which 
made the General observe that your money seemed to 
burn in your pocket, I cannot readily, nor indeed at 
all, express. Neither is Mrs. Unwin in the least behind 
me in her sense of it. We may well admire and love 
you, for we have not met with many such occurrences, 
or even- heard of many such, since we first entered a 
world where friendship is in every mouth, but finds 
only here and there a heart that has room for it. 

I know well, my cousin, how formidable a creature 
you are when you become once outrageous. No sprat 
in a storm is half so terrible. But it is all in vain. 
You are at a distance, so we snap our fingers at you. 



1786] TO LADY HESKETH 419 

Not that we have any more fowls at present. No, no ; 
you may make yourself easy upon that subject. The 
coop is empty, and at this time of year cannot 
be replenished. But the spring will soon begin to 
advance. There are such things as eggs in the world, 
which eggs will, by incubation, be transformed, some 
of them into chickens, and others of them into duck- 
lings. So muster up all your patience, for as sure as 
you live, if we live also, we shall put it to the trial. 
But seriously, you must not deny us one of the greatest 
pleasures we can have, which is, to give you now and 
then a little tiny proof how much we value you. We 
cannot sit with our hands before us, and be contented 
with only saying that we love Lady Hesketh. 

The little item that you inserted in your cover, 
concerning a review of a certain author's work, in the 
Gentleman's Magazine, excited Mrs. Unwin's curiosity 
to see it in a moment. In vain did I expostulate 
with her on the vanity of all things here below, 
especially of human praise, telling her what perhaps 
indeed she had heard before, but what on such an 
occasion I thought it not amiss to remind her of, that 
at the best it is but as the idle wind that whistles as 
it passes by, and that a little attention to the dictates 
of reason would presently give her the victory over all 
the curiosity that she felt so troublesome. For a short 
time, indeed, I prevailed, but the next day the fit 
returned upon her with more violence than before. 
She would see it, she was resolved that she would 
see it that moment. You must know, my dear, that 



420 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1786 

a watchmaker lives within two or three doors of us, who 
takes in the said Magazine for a gentleman at some 
distance, and as it happened it had not been sent to 
its proper owner. Accordingly the messenger that 
the lady dispatched, returned with it, and she was 
gratified. As to myself, I read the article indeed, and 
read it to her ; but I do not concern myself much you 
may suppose about such matters, and shall only make 
two or three cursory remarks, and so conclude. In 
the first place therefore, I observe that it is enough to 
craze a poor poet to see his verses so miserably mis- 
printed, and which is worse if possible, his very praises 
in a manner annihilated, by a jumble of the lines out 
of their places, so that in two instances, the end of the 
period takes the lead of the beginning of it. The said 
poet has still the more reason to be crazed, because the 
said Magazine is in general singularly correct. But 
at Christmas, no doubt your printer will get drunk as 
well as another man. It is astonishing to me that 
they know so exactly how much I translated of 
Voltaire. My recollection refreshed by them tells me 
that they are right in the number of the books that 
they affirm to have been translated by me, but till 
they brought the fact again to my mind, I myself had 
forgotten that part of the business entirely. My 
brother had twenty guineas for eight books of English 
Henriade, and I furnished him with four of them. They 
are not equally accurate in the affair of the Tame 
Mouse. That I kept one is certain, and that I kept 
it as they say, in my bureau, but not in the Temple. 



1786] TO LADY HESKETH 421 

It was while I was at Westminster. I kept it till it 
produced six young ones, and my transports when I 
first discovered them cannot easily be conceived, any 
more than my mortification, when going again to visit 
my little family, I found that mouse herself had eaten 
them ! I turned her loose, in indignation, and vowed 
never to keep a mouse again. Who the writer of this 
article can be, I am not able to imagine, nor where he 
had his information of these particulars. But they 
know all the world and everything that belongs to it. 
The mistake that has occasioned the mention of 
Unwin's name in the margin would be ludicrous if it 
were not, inadvertently indeed, and innocently on 
their part, profane. I should have thought it im- 
possible that when I spoke of One who had been 
wounded in the hands and in the side, any reader in 
a Christian land could have been for a moment at a 
loss for the person intended. 

Adieu, my dear cousin ; I intended that one of 
these should have served as a case for the other, but 
before I was aware of it, I filled both sheets com- 
pletely. However, as your money burns in your 
pocket, there is no harm done. I shall not add a 
syllable more, except that I am and, while I breathe, 

ever shall be most truly yours, 

WM. COWPER. 

Yes ; one syllable more. Having just finished the 
Iliad, I was determined to have a deal of talk with 
you. 



422 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1786 

CLVII 

To Lady Hesketh, 

OLNEY, Feb. 9, 1786. 
MY DEAREST COUSIN, 

I have been impatient to tell you that I am impatient 
to see you again. Mrs. Unwin partakes with me in 
all my feelings upon this subject, and longs also to see 
you. I should have told you so by the last post, but 
have been so completely occupied by this tormenting 
specimen, that it was impossible to do it. I sent the 
General a letter on Monday, that would distress and 
alarm him ; I sent him another yesterday, that will, I 
hope, quiet him again. Johnson has apologized very 
civilly for the multitude of his friend's strictures ; and 
his friend has promised to confine himself in future to 
a comparison of me with the original, so that, I doubt 
not, we shall jog on merrily together. And now, my 
dear, let me tell you once more, that your kindness in 
promising us a visit has charmed us both. I shall see 
you again. I shall hear your voice. We shall take 
walks together. I will show you my prospects, the 
hovel, the alcove, the Ouse, and its banks, every thing 
that I have described. I anticipate the pleasure of 
those days not very far distant, and feel a part of it at 
this moment. Talk not of an inn ! Mention it not for 
your life ! We have never had so many visitors, but 
we could easily accommodate them all ; though we 
have received Unwin, and his wife, and his sister, and 



1 786] TO LADY HESKE TH 423 

his son all at once. My dear, I will not let you come 
till the end of May, or beginning of June, because 
before that time my greenhouse will not be ready to 
receive us, and it is the only pleasant room belonging 
to us. When the plants go out, we go in. I line it 
with mats, and spread the floor with mats ; and there 
you shall sit with a bed of mignionette at your side, 
and a hedge of honeysuckles, roses, and jasmine ; and 
I will make you a bouquet of myrtle every day. 
Sooner than the time I mention the country will not 
be in complete beauty. And I will tell you what you 
shall find at your first entrance. Imprimis, as soon as 
you have entered the vestibule, if you cast a look on 
either side of you, you shall see on the right hand a 
box of my making. It is the box in which have been 
lodged all my hares, and in which lodges Puss at 
present : but he, poor fellow, is worn out with age, and 
promises to die before you can see him. On the right 
hand stands a cupboard, the work of the same author ; 
it was once a dove-cage, but I transformed it. Opposite 
to you stands a table, which I also made : but a 
merciless servant having scrubbed it until it became 
paralytic, it serves no purpose now but of ornament ; 
and all my clean shoes stand under it. On the left 
hand, at the further end of this superb vestibule, you 
will find the door of the parlour, into which I will 
conduct you, and where I will introduce you to 
Mrs. Unwin, unless we should meet her before, and 
where we will be as happy as the day is long. Order 
yourself, my cousin, to the Swan at Newport, and 



424 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1786 

there you shall find me ready to conduct you to 
Olney. 

My dear, I have told Homer what you say about 
casks and urns, and have asked him, whether he is 
sure that it is a cask in which Jupiter keeps his wine. 
He swears that it is a cask, and that it will never be 
any thing better than a cask to eternity. So if the 
god is content with it, we must even wonder at his 
taste, and be so too. Adieu ! my dearest, dearest 
cousin, 



CLVIII 

To Lady Hesketh. 

OLNEY, Feb. u, 1786. 
MY DEAREST COUSIN, 

It must be, I suppose, a fortnight or thereabout 
since I wrote last, I feel myself so alert and so ready 
to write again. Be that as it may, here I come. We 
talk of nobody but you. What we will do with you 
when we get you, where you shall walk, where you 
shall sleep ; in short, every thing that bears the 
remotest relation to your well-being at Olney, occupies 
all our talking time, which is all that I do not spend 
at Troy. 

I have every reason for writing to you as often as I 
can, but I have a particular reason for doing it now. 
I want to tell you that by the Diligence on Wednesday 



1786] TO LADY HESKETH 425 

next, I mean to send you a quire of my Homer for 
Maty's perusal. It will contain the first book, and as 
much of the second as brings us to the catalogue of 
the ships, and is every morsel of the revised copy that 
I have transcribed. My dearest cousin, read it your- 
self, let the General read it ; do what you please with 
it, so that it reach Johnson in due time. But let Maty 
be the only critic that has anything to do with it. 
The vexation, the perplexity, that attends a multipli- 
city of criticisms by various hands, many of which are 
sure to be futile, many of them ill-founded, and some 
of them contradictory to others, is inconceivable, 
except by the author, whose ill fated work happens to 
be the subject of them. This also appears to me 
self-evident, that if a work have passed under the 
review of one man of taste and learning, and have 
had the good fortune to please him, his approbation 
gives security for that of all others qualified like him- 
self. I speak thus, my dear, after having just escaped 
from such a storm of trouble, occasioned by endless 
remarks, hints, suggestions, and objections, as drove 
me almost to despair, and to the very verge of a 
resolution to drop my undertaking for ever. With 
infinite difficulty I at last sifted the chaff from the 
wheat, availed myself of what appeared to me to be 
just, and rejected the rest, but not till the labour and 
anxiety had nearly undone all that Kerr had been 
doing for me. My beloved cousin, trust me for it, 
as you safely may, that temper, vanity, and self- 
importance had nothing to do in all this distress that 



426 LETTERS FROM OLNEY [1786 

I suffered. It was merely the effect of an alarm, 
that I could not help taking, when I compared the 
great trouble I had with a few lines only, thus handled, 
with that which I foresaw such handling of the whole 
must necessarily give me. I felt beforehand that 
my constitution would not bear it. I shall send up 
this second specimen in a box that I have had made 
on purpose ; and when Maty has done with the copy, 
and you have done with it yourself, then you must 
return it in said box to my translatorship. Though 
Johnson's friend has teased me sadly, I verily believe 
that I shall have no more such cause to complain of 
him. We now understand one another, and I firmly 
believe that I might have gone the world through, 
before I had found his equal in an accurate and 
familiar acquaintance with the original. 

A letter to Mr. Urban in the last Gentleman's 
Magazine, of which I's book is the subject, pleases 
me more than anything I have seen in the way of 
eulogium yet. I have no guess of the author. 

I do not wish to remind the Chancellor of his 
promise. Ask you why, my cousin? Because I suppose 
it would be impossible. He has, no doubt, forgotten 
it entirely, and would be obliged to take my word for 
the truth of it, which I could not bear. We drank 

tea together with Mrs. C e, and her sister, in 

King Street, Bloomsbury, and there was the promise 
made. I said " Thurlow, I am nobody, and shall be 
always nobody, and you will be Chancellor. You shall 
provide for me when you are," He smiled, and 



1786] TO LADY HESKETH 427 

replied, "I surely will." "These ladies," said I, 
" are witnesses." He still smiled, and said " Let 
them be so, for I will certainly do it." But alas ! 
twenty-four years have passed since the day of the 
date thereof; and to mention it now would be to 
upbraid him with inattention to his plighted troth. 
Neither do I suppose he could easily serve such a 
creature as I am, if he would. Adieu, whom I love 
entirely, 



END OF VOL. I 



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